REPORT: Rio Tinto CEO to Visit Troubled Copper Mine
Like a bridge over trouble water, Rio Tinto’s chief executive Sam Walsh will visit the company’s $6.5 billion Oyu Tolgoi copper mine in Mongolia to meet with the country’s new prime minister to settle ongoing disputes, which have caused delays to an expansion project at the mine.
Walsh will visit the mine to meet employees as well as greet members of the business community and some government officials, according to a source who asked not to be named because issues related to the mine are sensitive,
The expansion, which would extend the mine’s life beyond its estimated 15 years, has been postponed due to disputes over costs and taxes. The clashes have caused concern among investors who worry about “resource nationalism”, as several governments across the world look to renegotiate contracts to get a bigger say in mining projects.
However, it’s believed that Prime Minister Chimed Saikhanbileg is in favor of reaching a deal with Rio.
“Saikhanbileg’s administration is Rio’s best chance for a deal on Oyu Tolgoi phase two,” said Nick Cousyn, chief operating officer of Ulan Bator-based broker BDSec.
“They can either empower him by showing flexibility and respect, or risk losing Mongolia to the populist opposition.”
Along with the open-cut mine, the “phase two” project would see the construction of an underground mining complex. Rio Tinto’s Turquoise Hill Resources owns 66 percent of the mine, with the Mongolian government owning the rest.
Last year, Rio Tinto handed Mongolia a proposed resolution to issues including a $127 million tax claim, which was later reduced to $30 million, and approval of a $4 billion project financing package to pay for phase-two construction.
"The offer remains on the table and we believe it is beneficial to all stakeholders," said Jeffery Tygesen, chief executive of Turquoise Hill Resources.
Copper production from top ten companies to increase by 3.8%
Copper production from the world’s top companies is set to increase by up to 3.8% this year, following a fall of 0.2% in 2020, GlobalData analysis reveals. Last year’s marginal slump saw production drop to 11.76 million tonnes (Mt).
The initial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mining operations was immense, however, six of the ten largest copper producers succeeded in increasing output last year. In 2021, copper production from the top ten copper companies is expected to bounce back, rising by up to 3.8%, to reach 12.2Mt, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.
The highest increase in copper production was by Canada’s First Quantum, which, despite all the challenges, reported 10.4% growth in 2020. The company’s Sentinel mine in Zambia and Cobre Panama were key contributors to this growth. While the latter remained under care and maintenance between April and August 2020, it delivered record production levels during the subsequent months.
Codelco, the world’s largest producer of the red metal used in electric vehicles, also bucked the trend.
Vinneth Bajaj, Associate Project Manager at GlobalData, commented: “Despite Codelco reporting over 3,400 active cases during July 2020, the company achieved 1.2% growth in its production in 2020. The company implemented a four-phase plan, as part of the COVID-19 measures, to ensure the health and safety of its employees, while also avoiding any significant impact to its copper output.”
Although the overall impact was minimal, declines in production were observed from Glencore (8.2%), Antofagasta (4.7%), BHP (3.9%) and Freeport McMoRan (1.3%). Reduced operational workforces due to COVID-19 measures, lower ore grades and production halts due to maintenance were the key disruptors to output during 2020.
The move towards electric vehicles and clean energy from renewables sources such as solar panels and wind turbines has driven the copper price to all-time highs. Copper has been among the best performers over the last month where metals ranging from aluminum to iron ore have surged to their highest prices in years. The rally is being fueled by stimulus measures, near-zero interest rates and signs that economies are recovering from the global pandemic.