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Canadian miner First Quantum Minerals Ltd. is looking for strategic partners to develop new copper projects and a joint venture with Rio Tinto Ltd. in Peru could be on the cards, First Quantum’s chief executive said on Wednesday.

“That is what we are going to explore and it just depends on what kind of partner we get,” First Quantum CEO Philip Pascall said on the sidelines of a conference in London, referring to the company’s plans to find strategic partners.

“There are a number of different potential players, not necessarily mining companies,” he added.

When asked if First Quantum could partner with Rio to develop a copper mine in Peru, Mr. Pascall said that would be one of the options.

A Rio spokesman declined to comment.

First Quantum owns the Haquira deposit in southern Peru and Rio owns the La Granja porphyry copper project in the South American country.

Mr. Pascall said new copper mines generally require between US$3-billion and US$4-billion to develop as grades have declined in recent years, necessitating higher mining volumes.

First Quantum is heavily indebted, carrying a US$7.6-billion net debt at the end of its third quarter, up 24 per cent from a year ago, according to the company’s latest financial statements.

It began commercial production in September at the Cobre Panama mine where Mr. Pascall said he was looking for a partner to replace Korea Resources Corp., which owns 10 per cent.

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