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Deal Marks Potential Chinese Entry into Ontario’s Ring of Fire and Canada’s Rail Market

KWG Resources, a firm with chromite operations in the James Bay Lowlands of Northern Ontario, has signed an agreement with China Railway First Survey & Design Institute Group to conduct a pre-feasibility study regarding a railway to transport mineral ore for processing. KWG and Noront Resources together have a 30% share of Northern Ontario’s Big Daddy chromite deposit, and KWG has 100% ownership of the corporation which has claim-staked a 340 kilometer long route from the deposit to a Canadian National Railway line, all as part of the planned, large-scale chromite mining and development project termed the Ring of Fire.

The James Bay Lowlands are rich in various mineral deposits, but with 540 kilometers between it and Thunder Bay, the Ring of Fire requires significant investment in order to mine, process, and transport the region’s chromite deposits. The Ontario provincial government is reportedly hoping to see the Canadian federal government provide matching C$1 billion for mining infrastructure in the region, and earlier this year the provincial and federal governments announced C$785,000 for an impact-assessment study regarding a road to a nickel project in the Ring of Fire.

Chinese firms have become increasingly prominent in railway projects around the world, including in Canada. A Chinese firm placed an unsuccessful bid for 60-100% of Bombardier’s rail division in August of 2015, while the Chinese Ambassador to Canada reportedly lobbied in 2014 for Chinese participation in a potential 370 kilometer-long bullet train line in Ontario. Further afield, a Chinese firm entered a joint venture in September of 2015 to build another 370 kilometer high-speed line, this time between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, with the Chinese side financing US$100 million (C$133 million).

China’s first high-speed rail project outside the country was in Turkey, a US$1.2 billion project that is one-third complete. In Russia, China was active throughout 2015, with both a high-speed Moscow-Kazan line announced in June, and a US$242 billion Moscow-Beijing line announced in January. October of 2015 saw Chinese firms express interest in a £43 billion (C$86 billion) high-speed line in the UK, while in November the same year, Germany’s state-owned railway announced it intends to open a procurement office in Shanghai.

Closer to China, in September of 2015 it was announced that a Chinese firm will conduct a feasibility study regarding a 1,200 km high-speed line in India. A new US$7 billion high-speed China-Laos-Thailand line —  part of a larger project connecting all mainland Southeast Asian countries, from China to Singapore, and from Myanmar to Vietnam — announced in August of 2015 is projected to be completed in three years. In Malaysia, a Chinese firm owns 80% of the railway manufacturing market, while in Indonesia, China was awarded a 150 kilometre, US$5.5 billion rail project in October of this year.

Elsewhere, 2015 saw Kenya announce it will have both a China-built, 2,935 kilometre Kenya-Rwanda line, agreed to in May, and a China-built, Nairobi-Mombasa line, agreed to in September. China is planning a 5,300 kilometre railway across Brazil and Peru, with another sea-to-sea, 604 kilometre railway planned across Honduras. In Australia, China’s National Development and Reform Commission expressed interest in November of 2015 in Australian projects, while a Chinese bullet train maker entered a 50-50 joint venture with an Australian firm in April of 2015.

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