Mongolia tells Rio Tinto to delay Oyu Tolgoi copper exports

Oyu Tolgoi copper mine opening hit by last-minute delay

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 10:45am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 10:45am

Rio Tinto said its plan to start exporting copper from the US$6.2 billion (HK$48.1 billion) Oyu Tolgoi copper mine on Friday has been delayed at the request of the Mongolian government, ahead of a presidential election on June 26.

Journalists had been invited last week to attend a ceremony at the copper and gold mine on June 14 to mark the first exports. That was postponed to June 21, but the event was again cancelled at the last minute.

“Oyu Tolgoi is ready to start its first shipments of copper concentrate from its Mongolian mine and all necessary permits to do so have been received from relevant authorities,” Rio Tinto spokesman Bruce Tobin said on Friday.

“However, plans to start shipping on Friday 21 June have been postponed at the request of the government of Mongolia.”

The company declined to comment on what was behind the latest delay.

The event on June 14 had been postponed due to a demand from the government that Rio Tinto keep all export revenue in Mongolia, Prime Minister Norov Altankhuyag said earlier this week.

That issue has been resolved, people familiar with the situtation said. The agreement that governs the Oyu Tolgoi project gives Rio Tinto the freedom to put the export revenue anywhere it wants, they added.

Given the company’s accounts in Mongolia had been temporarily frozen earlier this year, keeping funds there would not be an attractive option.

Rio, operator of the mine, has been producing at Oyu Tolgoi for several months, and has been aiming to start exports by the end of June.

“Rio Tinto is keen to start shipping as soon as possible in order for the benefits from Oyu Tolgoi to start flowing to all parties, including the people of Mongolia,” Tobin said.

“Shipping will commence as soon as the gvernment indicates its support for us to do so.”

Rio has said since February it would not begin exporting until it resolved disputes with the Mongolian government over royalties, costs, management fees and project financing. Rio’s Turquoise Hill Resources unit owns 66 per cent of the mine, with the remainder owned by the Mongolian government.

The latest delay may be to stave off controversy ahead of the presidential poll, as Oyu Tolgoi is the biggest foreign investment in the country and resource nationalism has been a major election issue.

President Tsakhia Elbegdorj, seen as more friendly to foreign investors, is expected to win re-election.

By 2020, Oyu Tolgoi is expected to boost Mongolia’s economy by about a third. In the first 10 years, its annual output is expected to average 330,000 tonnes of copper and 495,000 ounces of gold.