SYDNEY, Nov 2 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia plans to award over a dozen mining exploration licences to international investors as it looks to enter the mining sector in a big way to diversify away from hydrocarbons, Mining Minister Bandar Al-Khorayef said on Wednesday.

Five new exploration sites are up for licensing and the kingdom will release details of an additional 10 opportunities next year, the minister said in a speech at the International Mining and Resources Conference in Sydney.

“Strategically located at the heart of the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe, with a will and infrastructure and high domestic demand for minerals and metals, Saudi Arabia can be a main contributor to the growth of the mining sector,” Al-Khorayef told miners and energy industry leaders and experts.

Riyadh’s efforts to build an economy that’s not dependent on oil include a shift towards mining, with exploration of untapped reserves of resources from copper to phosphate and gold.

More than 145 licenses have been issued so far and the country has seen a 27% year-on-year growth in its mining revenue, the minister said.

“We have an ambitious strategy to attract investments worth $32 billion to mining and mineral sector. So this is only the beginning,” he added.

The Saudi government estimates its unused mineral resources at $1.33 trillion, with vast quantities of aluminium, phosphate, gold, copper and uranium, Al-Khorayef said.

The Saudi mining ministry said last week that it will launch the bidding process for the licences in Bir Umq, Jabal Idsas, Umm Hadid, Jabal Sahabiyah and Ar Ridaniyah.

Al-Khorayef said the kingdom plans to move beyond exploration and extraction to processing and manufacturing.

“Supported by our increasing supply of competitively priced renewable energy, our ambition is to become a leading green metal refining and processing hub,” he said, adding that the country plans to invest to build a strong value chain for the rapidly growing electrical vehicles sector.

Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Stephen Coates and Richard Pullin

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