Oyu Tolgoi copper expansion breaks deadlock

Rio Tinto’s development of Oyu Tolgoi has taken a step further with an agreement signed by the Mongolian Government, Turquoise Hill Resources and Rio Tinto.

The Oyu Tolgoi Underground Mine Development and Financing Plan, announced this morning, addresses key shareholder issues in terms of funding for the project.

A statement from Rio Tinto said the next phase of development will shift to finalising project finance, conducting the feasibility study and securing permits to proceed.

Mongolian prime minister Chimediin Saikhanbileg expressed his hopes for the impact of Oyu Tolgoi on the Mongolian economy, which holds a 34 per cent stake in the project.

“Mongolia is back in business,” he said.

“Oyu Tolgoi is a world-class copper-gold asset and its further development is of great economic significance for Mongolia.

“Unlocking Oyu Tolgoi’s underground mine will have a significant impact on the Mongolian economy, which will benefit Mongolian citizens for generations to come.

“Our joint agreement clearly positions Mongolia as an attractive country for investment and underscores the fact that Mongolia is open for business.”

It is expected the Oyu Tolgoi mine will contribute about a third of the Mongolian economy at full production, and will be the world’s third biggest copper mine.

The Oyu Tolgoi expansion project was plagued by disagreement between the Mongolian Government and JV partners over accusations of non-payment of US$30 million in taxes, which Rio Tinto denied.

Construction of the project began in 2009, and was suspended in July 2013 over the deadlock between Rio Tinto and the Mongolian Government, which resulted in job losses for 1700 workers.

Rio Tinto copper and gold chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said the joint agreement reflected “tremendous leadership” on the part of all parties concerned.

“The resolution of the outstanding issues reinforces the principles of the Investment Agreement signed in 2009, which underpinned the US$6 billion invested in Oyu Tolgoi to date, and provides a clear and stable framework for the future,” he said.

The first phase of Oyu Tolgoi shipped a total of 1 million tonnes of copper concentrate by March 2015, less than two years after first production.

Rio Tinto said the project has paid US$1.3 billion in taxes, fees and royalties to the Mongolian Government to date.

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