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Massive diamond mine opens in Canada's far north

A view of the open pit at the De Beers' new diamond mine in Gahcho Kue, Canada

De Beers officially opened one of the world's largest diamond mines on Tuesday near the Arctic Circle in Canada's remote far north.

The Gahcho Kue mine is situated in the outback some 280 kilometers (174 miles) northeast of Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories.

"It's the largest diamond mine brought into production in the last 13 years and it's the biggest outside South Africa," De Beers chief executive Bruce Cleaver told AFP in an interview at a ceremony christening the new mine.

"So this is very significant for us."

Headquartered in Johannesburg, De Beers owns a 51 percent stake in the mine, whose name is derived from a term for "big rabbit" in the local indigenous Chipewyan language.

The global diamond company's Canadian partner Mountain Province Diamonds controls the remaining ownership stake.

Discovered in 1995, the deposit located near the Arctic Circle took more than $1 billion to develop.

The open-pit mine is accessible only by air except for a few months in winter when trucks can travel across ice roads.

It is expected to produce 54 million carats of rough diamonds over its operating lifetime, by 2028, and employ 530 workers who must be flown in from communities further south for two-week work rotations, according to De Beers.

The search for diamond-rich kimberlite formations underground is costly and finds are rare, Cleaver said.

"It's also very difficult to bring a new diamond mine into production on time and in the budget," he added.

Finding a rich deposit, setting up the mine and bringing it on stream "is very rare these days," he said.

The Gahcho Kue mine is the sixth to open in Canada in the last two decades, making the country the world's fifth-largest diamond producer in terms of volume and third in value, with more than $1.5 billion in annual exports.

Cleaver predicted that "consumer demand for diamond jewelry is set to see continued medium to long-term growth."

However, production is waning.

Last December, De Beers halted operations at its Snap Lake mine adjacent to the new Gahcho Kue mine and put it up for sale. It may be shuttered if no buyers come forward.

Another of its mines in Ontario province, meanwhile, is scheduled to close in the next three years.

Diamond sales to consumers have been hampered by an economic slowdown in China and ongoing turmoil in global financial markets, falling two percent in 2015 to $79 billion.

This sluggishness is expected to continue over the next decade, according to a forecast published last week by De Beers, which is owned by mining giant Anglo American and the government of Botswana.

The United States, China, India and Japan have traditionally provided the largest markets, buying up around 73 percent of diamonds sold each year.

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