Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), the largest company in the Middle East, has commenced iron ore exploration at Atomai in the northern Zouerate region of Mauritanian, in a move to strengthen its position as the leading steel manufacturer in the region.

SABIC has partnered with the Mauritanian National Company for Industry and Mining, following a series of joint venture since September, and according to initial estimations the site under investigation is projected to hold over 500 million tonnes of iron ore reserves.

Abdulaziz Al-Humaid, SABIC’s executive VP for its metals strategic business unit, said he expects the agreement to run for the next three years, and that a new company, the Mauritania Saudi Mining and Steel Company, also Takamul, has been launched to acquire the necessary mining licenses, and conduct the feasibility studies and exploration work.

SABIC aims to shore up raw material sources for its plant in Saudi Arabia, while surpluses will be sold to targeted markets. In all, iron ore accounts for 35% of Mauritania’s exports.

The entire mining sector accounts for over 65% of total exports, and it is the most important sector of the economy, contributing an estimated 12% of the country’s GDP.

SABIC is a 70%-government owned Saudi Arabian conglomerate with diversified interests in chemicals production, fertilizers, industry polymers and metals sectors.