INTERVIEW-ArcelorMittal set to exceed Liberia 2011 iron ore target
* 1.2 mln-1.3 mln T seen in 2011
* Decline in prices not seen impacting project
By Richard Valdmanis
MONROVIA, Nov 10 (Reuters) - ArcelorMittal, the world's top steel maker, is on track to produce between 1.2 million and 1.3 million tonnes of iron ore from its Liberia mine in 2011, exceeding a 1-million-tonne target, and does not expect a decline in prices to impact the project's planned expansion, the company said on Thursday.
"We will surpass our official target, from what I see now," Liberia CEO Rajesh Goel told Reuters by telephone. "We hope to produce 1.2 to 1.3 million tonnes during this year."
The company launched commercial iron ore production in Liberia in September, the first company to do so since the end of 14 years of intermittent civil war in the West African state that ended in 2003.
Liberia is in the midst of a presidential election that incumbent Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is poised to win, after her rival Winston Tubman dropped out and boycotted the run-off citing fraud in the first round.
There was violence in the capital ahead of the voting this week, turn-out in the poll appears to have been low and Tubman has threatened to challenge the results.
But Goel said he was not worried about the situation in the country: "We've enjoyed working in an atmosphere of peace here for several years, and we are optimistic for the future."
ArcelorMittal is hoping to boost iron ore production from the mine in Nimba County to 4 million tonnes per year starting in 2012 and is studying an expansion that could triple output by 2014 or 2015, Goel said.
He added that the recent decline in global steel prices was not expected to have an impact on the Liberia project.
"Short term fluctuations in pricing do not really impact a project like this. The only thing is whether you consider the price fluctuations short term, or long term. As yet we are not taking this too seriously as having any impact on the project", he said.
Johnson-Sirleaf has said the project is a vote of confidence in Liberia's investment climate and will provide an economic boost to one of the world's poorest countries. (Editing by David Lewis)
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