JAPANESE SMELTERS SHY AWAY FROM SAUDI DEAL

JAPANESE SMELTERS SHY AWAY FROM SAUDI DEAL

No new Japanese smelting firms have stepped forward to replace Mitsubishi Materials Corp. following its decision to pull out of talks on building a new copper smelter in Saudi Arabia, an official with the Japan International Development Organization (JAIDO) said Friday.

Mitsubishi earlier had said that it could not "spare the manpower" for the project and is no longer involved in talks to build a 150,000-metric-ton capacity smelter in Yanbu port, Saudi Arabia.Mitsubishi already is building two new smelters in Indonesia and India.

Construction on the proposed Saudi plant was to begin in the next few months, with start-up of production eyed for late 1997 or early 1998. But those plans are now on hold until a new smelting company commits to the project, according to Kunihiko Okamura, head of JAIDO's Saudi Arabia group.

Under the original plan, Alujain Co., a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia's Zenel Cable Corp., would hold a 60 percent ownership stake in the project, with Japanese investors being sought for the remaining 40 percent.

JAIDO, a quasi-government foreign aid group made up of both Japanese government aid organizations and private industry, still hopes to go forward with the project, Mr. Okamura said.

"All Japanese smelting companies have been approached," but no one has stepped forward to commit to the project, he said, adding that Alujain is ''very anxious" to proceed with the project.

Smelting firms outside Japan have not been approached about investing in the project, Mr. Okamura said.

''Our highest priority is to involve Japanese firms" in the project, he said.