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Mining expo copes with virus, protests

By RENA LI in Toronto | China Daily | Updated: 2020-03-06 00:45

The 2020 annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference that draws thousands of investors and miners to Toronto from across the world has had to cope with coronavirus concerns and land rights protesters.

Although business continued as usual, the four-day global mining meeting, which concluded Wednesday at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, has had a noticeably smaller crowd than in previous years as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread around the world.

On site, signs reminded attendees from roughly 100 countries to sanitize and disinfect. A number of exhibitors, particularly those from countries with travel restrictions, were not able to attend. Other resource companies decided to skip this year's meeting.

The coronavirus' effects on capital markets are obvious, Canadian billionaire investor Eric Sprott told attendees at the event's practical advice seminar.

While offering tips on navigating the market, Sprott said his firm is spending more time researching the virus than it is on researching gold and silver.

A number of other major global events set for March also were canceled due to the outbreak, including the oil-related IHS CERAWeek 2020 event in Houston, Texas; the CRU-Cesco World Copper Conference in Santiago, Chile; and the Geneva International Motor Show.

Sprott said he was surprised the Toronto convention — which is often hailed as the mining sector's premier event — wasn't canceled amid growing concerns about the coronavirus.

Another speaker, Mickey Fulp of the website Mercenary Geologist, told SmallCapPower that the recent gold slide was merely a short-term liquidity event, as people wanted to raise capital by selling one of the most liquid assets available — gold. He remains long-term bullish on the precious metal's prospects.

"Copper is one commodity that has held up well during the recent market turmoil. Perhaps a China slowdown is already baked into its price," said Fulp, who is a well-known analyst throughout the mining community.

Paul Robinson, director of the CRU Group, a UK-based commodity market analysis firm, told the Canadian Mining Journal that although there is no real change in global demand at the moment, "We can't not talk about COVID-19."

While mood swings prevailed inside, outside the convention a protest led by the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network sparked unprecedented chaos on the opening day at the convention's entrances, where activists were asking people to "rise up against the extractive industry's violence, ongoing colonization, and complete disregard for the future of life on this planet", as the group's Twitter feed put it.

According to CBC News, the demonstration was partially supportive of the Wet'suwet'en chiefs in British Columbia who are opposing Coastal GasLink's pipeline, which runs through the province.

Canadian Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan, who addressed the convention early Sunday, said that mining has long been a driver of the country's economy and clean energy efforts.

"There can be no clean-energy transition without mining," the minister tweeted. "We need critical minerals for renewable energy. For batteries. Smart grids. LED light bulbs. Electric motors and vehicles."

However, protesters outside saw things much differently.

"We are in a moment of global ecological crisis, and unchecked resource extraction is a major cause," said Kirsten Francescone of MiningWatch Canada in a statement. "The extraction and processing of metals and minerals make up 26% of global carbon emissions. Yet the people who attend PDAC often say that expanding mining is necessary for combating climate change while avoiding mining's own disastrous role in rendering the planet uninhabitable."

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