About 12 new metallic mines should begin commercial operations this year, mostly nickel projects, adding to a “bright” outlook for a sector enjoying cash windfall from high prices, the local industry regulator said on Friday.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) also said in a report the Philippines’ nickel output last year totaled 386,359 tonnes, 17% higher than the previous year’s production and the highest in six years. 

The Philippines has been China’s biggest supplier of nickel ore after Indonesia banned exports of the material from 2020, to try to develop a full supply chain that includes processing of the metal used in stainless steel and batteries for electric vehicles. 

The medium-term outlook for the mining industry is rosy “unless the war in Ukraine will spill over to Asia and cause disruption to trade,” MGB Director Wilfredo G. Moncano said.

He is hopeful the next administration will support policies of President Rodrigo R. Duterte, whose term ends in June, including ending a four-year-old ban on open-pit mining for copper, gold, silver and complex ores.

While existing local nickel miners “have always been operating at an optimum capacity”, the entry of new producers will increase domestic ore output, said Dante R. Bravo, president of Global Ferronickel Holdings Inc., the country’s second-largest nickel ore miner.

Despite high metals prices, however, Mr. Bravo told Reuters challenges remain for a local industry now burdened by rising fuel prices, higher inflation, a manpower shortage, supply chain disruption and potentially, rising freight charges. — Reuters