Sydney — There’s a strange thing about the fear going through the global mining industry after the Democratic Republic of Congo signed an order to lift royalties last week: compared with most other countries, these levies are still relatively low. The existing 2% rate on copper extraction compares with royalties five times that level in Chile and Peru, the two biggest producers. Even at the new 3.5% rate proposed by the country’s national assembly, charges will still be lower than those paid in Australia and the US, according to a PwC database of copper royalties. (There’ll be an additional levy on windfall profits, too — but the history of those taxes suggests little money will be raised, anyway.) So what’s the fuss about? For one thing, royalties are only part of the cost mix for a mine. Congo’s southeastern copper belt is isolated and infrastructure-poor, even by the standards of major mining regions. Electricity is brought by power lines from near the mouth of the Congo River on...

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