Algeria's nonfuel minerals were used extensively as raw material for domestic manufacturing, but some, such as high-grade iron ore, phosphate, mercury, and zinc, have also been exported since the early 1970s. The state mining and prospecting corporation, the National Company for Mineral Research and Exploration (Société Nationale de Recherches et d'Exploitations Minières), was established in 1967. As a result of the government's decentralization policy, the company was restructured in 1983 into separate production and distribution entities. The most important of these were an iron ore and phosphate company known as Ferphos, which had three production units and a port complex at Annaba, and another company called Erem that specialized in conducting mineral research at Boumerdas on the Mediterranean Sea and Tamanrasset in the south.
Iron ore is found at Beni Saf in the northwest and the Ouenza and Bou Khadra region near the eastern border. Production levels have tended to vary significantly over the years, fluctuating between 1 million and 2 million tons between the early 1970s and the early 1990s. The deposits at Ouenza represent 75 percent of total production and have been exported primarily to Italy and Britain. However, there are massive reserves of medium-grade ore at Gara Djebilet, near Tindouf in the west. These deposits of an estimated 2,000 million tons of medium-grade ore have been said to be the largest in the Arab world. The most significant zinc deposits have been found at the mountain of El Abed near the Algerian-Moroccan border and at Kherzet-Youssef in the Sétif region. Lead is also mined at El Abed and Kherzet-Youssef.
The large phosphate deposits at Djebel Onk in the northeast have been mined since the early 1960s; phosphate rock output reached 1.3 million tons in 1988. The total was almost evenly divided between export (primarily to France and Spain) and local consumption or processing at the Annaba fertilizer plant, approximately 350 kilometers away. Most major mines are linked by rail to Algeria's ports. Djebel Onk phosphate mines near the Tunisian border, as well as the Ouenza iron ore mines, are linked by electric rail line to Annaba. Zinc and lead mines at El Abed near the Moroccan border in the west are linked to Oran.
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