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EXCLUSIVE-Congo may designate copper as strategic mineral, raising miners' fees

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LONDON, March 15 (Reuters) - The Democratic Republic of Congo is considering adding copper to its list of strategic minerals in a move that would extract higher fees from mining companies, an adviser to the prime minister said on Thursday.

"Copper is something we are discussing as being on the list with the others," Jean Nkunza told Reuters, referring to minerals that will be declared strategic including cobalt, germanium, lithium and coltan.

Congo, Africa's top copper producer, last Friday signed into law a mining code that would raise royalties across the board and remove a clause in the current law protecting miners from changes to the fiscal and customs regime for 10 years.

Minerals declared "strategic" could see royalty fees increase to 10 percent from around 2 percent previously.

Under the new code, mining companies will pay a royalty of 3.5 percent on copper and other minerals if they are not designated strategic.

Miners have opposed the changes but committed to negotiations with the government on how the code would be implemented. Mines Minister Martin Kabwelulu said the companies' concerns would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Glencore, Randgold, China Molybdenum and Ivanhoe have operations in Congo. They have said the new code will deter investment.

The government considers minerals with the "strategic" designation important for the economic, social and industrial future of the country.

Copper, used widely in power and construction, is also expected to see growing demand for use in electric vehicles and charging stations in coming years.

Copper output from Congo rose 6.9 percent in 2017 to 1.09 million tonnes, the industry-led chamber of mines said in February.

That would be about 4 percent of global production this year estimated at 24 million tonnes. (Reporting by Zandi Shabalala; Editing by Dale Hudson)