China digs for Canadian potash mines

But they don’t seem to reach the right depth. According to press agency Reuters Chinese state-owned company Sinochem just dropped its bid for the PotashCorp, the big Canadian mining company and largest producer of potash in the world.

The Chinese offer upset Canadian sentiment. Potash mining is regarded an important Canadian industry, supposed to remain Canadian. Canada is at present not only (by a big margin) the biggest  producer – the country also has by far the largest estimated reserve base of potash. China is only the world’s 6th producer, after Israel at place 5. One takeover could dramatically change the picture.

Potash is rich in potassium. It is actually the other way around, as in English (and for instance French) the word potassium was derived from pot-as(ch), universal Germanic for, well, pot and ash. The Germanic languages themselves stick to ‘kalium’, somehow conjugating an old Semitic word for ash. In case you would share an interest in odd bits of European etymology.

As potassium can be a limiting nutrient potash is widely used in agriculture, as a fertilizer. In preindustrial times it was derived from organic ashes, nowadays it is a big mining industry that digs for potassium salts at depths that equal mining for coal or diamonds – sometimes over a mile deep.

This time it’s not another resources industry sliding under Chinese control. But it won’t be an independent PotashCorp either. Resources company BHP Billiton plc has $39 billion in hand to make a hostile takeover. It is a mixture of an old Dutch tin mining company (Billiton) that Shell took over in the seventies – and then merged with Australian mining giant Broken Hill Proprietary in 2001. Just so you know who you’ll be paying one cent for every pound of tomatoes you buy. Perhaps more. Potash prices went through the roof in recent years and are expected to keep rising with rising demand for fertilizer as global agriculture intensifies over the years ahead.

The race for resources is on. Thus mining is news.

(c) Rolf Schuttenhelm |

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