Minmetals and Sinopec parent sign deals insuring stock of raw materials China's largest metals trading company, China Minmetals, and the nation's second-largest oil refiner, China Petrochemical Qilu, have signed separate deals to secure a share of raw material resources in the Americas and help plug the widening domestic supply gap. Minmetals yesterday agreed to form a US$550 million joint venture with the world's largest copper producer, Chile's Codelco, to develop mining projects. 'The joint venture will be a platform to ensure long-term copper supply from Codelco to Minmetals,' a company statement said. The investment could eventually top $2 billion, Reuters reported. The two companies have appointed China Development Bank as debt arranger for the joint venture. The deal will see Codelco sell 55,000 tonnes of refined copper annually to Minmetals for the next 15 years while the Chinese firm will be given an option to buy a 25 per cent stake in Codelco's Gaby mine, which is expected to produce 150,000 tonnes of copper a year from 2008. China is the world's largest consumer of copper, with imports of copper concentrate - the metal's raw state - surging 60.6 per cent to 1.26 million tonnes in the first four months of the year. Chile accounts for 42.4 per cent of that volume. The demand growth has been spurred mainly by the construction, power and electronics sectors. While the Minmetals deal will secure a supply of refined copper, China's largest copper smelter, Jiangxi Copper, said overseas copper concentrates investment deals had been hard to come by. Jiangxi Copper, which relies on foreign concentrates to supply about 60 per cent of its needs, formed a joint venture with Minmetals and four other copper smelters in 2002 to invest in overseas mines, but the venture has so far failed to yield any results. 'Most mines with good potential are already controlled by foreigners and one does not want to take the risks by getting into projects in nations with less stable economic and legal environments,' a Jiangxi Copper spokesman said. In addition to metal ores, China is a big importer of crude oil. High prices have seen the country's oil firms venture into the development of non-conventional resources, such as oil sands. China Petrochemical, parent of listed unit China Petroleum & Chemical Corp (Sinopec), has signed a deal to buy a 40 per cent interest in the Northern Lights oil-sands project in Alberta, Canada for C$105 million ($650.35 million). The move follows a similar investment by dominant offshore oil producer CNOOC, which spent C$150 million on a 16.69 per cent stake in MEG Energy, another Alberta oil-sands project developer. In a joint statement, China Petrochemical and partner Synenco Energy said the project would eventually cost C$4.5 billion over five years and would mine oil sands to extract bitumen, which can be refined into synthetic crude oil. The project is expected to start production in 2009 or 2010 and have a capacity of more than 100,000 barrels a day. PetroChina, the nation's largest oil company, is also looking to buy oil from Alberta's oil-sands projects. In April, it signed a memorandum of understanding with Alberta-based Enbridge to supply 200,000 barrels a day.