THE world’s biggest gold refiner, South Africa’s Rand Refinery, is considering setting up a refining plant in China within two to three years, joining hands with a local partner on its first such plant abroad, a top executive said on Friday.

Rand Refinery is targeting Asia, home to the world’s top two gold consumers, China and India, as a key region for future development. It expects to complete a sampling and assaying facility in Singapore by the end of the year.

"During the past year, we have identified one or two possible opportunities to partner for a potential initial refinery footprint in China," Rand Refinery chief strategy officer Peter Bouwer said on the sidelines of a conference in Shanghai.

The lack of high-purity gold refining capacity in China posed an opportunity for the company, Mr Bouwer said.

"China already has huge refining capacity, both in a handful of large-scale refiners listed with the LBMA (the international trade association that represents the wholesale market for gold and silver), and a huge number of small-or micro-scale refiners," he said.

"The challenge facing especially the smaller refineries is the technology and experience to produce high-purity gold," Mr Bouwer said.

High-purity gold is keenly sought for use in jewellery, which accounted for two-thirds of China’s gold demand in the first nine months of this year.

China is the world’s largest gold producer.

Rand’s China refinery would rely on locally sourced scrap and dore, an unrefined alloy of gold with variable quantities of silver and smaller amounts of base metals, Mr Bouwer said.

Rand Refinery, the biggest supplier of bullion to China, is likely to ship about 100 tons of gold kilo bars into the country this year, similar to last year, the company’s CE said last month.

China’s consumer gold demand stood at 576.9 tons in the first three quarters of the year, down slightly from 580.3 tons in the same period last year, the World Gold Council said.

Mr Bouwer expected China’s gold demand to improve as the country’s economy recovered.

"I really have confidence in China’s ability to recover," he said.