SINGAPORE Rio Tinto Plc expects to start shipping copper from its $6.6-billion Oyu Tolgoi project in Mongolia in the first half of this year, according to chief executive officer Sam Walsh.
"This will depend on the ongoing discussions with the government of Mongolia, where constructive progress is being made," he told Australian journalists May 9 after Rio Tintos annual general meeting in Sydney.
The company must resolve some outstanding issues with the Mongolian government before the start-up, Walsh said. "We are still looking for some approvals in relation to exactly how we transport and ship the material ... which we expect to receive in the next couple of weeks," he added.
The Mongolian government has a 34-percent stake in Oyu Tolgoi, with the rest held by Turquoise Hill Resources Ltd., which is controlled and majority owned by Rio Tinto.
Progress on the Oyu Tolgoi project could help offset the loss of copper production caused by a wall slide at the London-based companys Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah. Rio Tinto cut its mined and refined copper production forecast for 2013 by 125,000 tonnes and 100,000 tonnes, respectively, in the wake of the slide (amm.com, April 16).
Oyu Tolgoi is a crucial project for Mongolia, as it is expected to account for 35 percent of the countrys gross domestic product when it is fully operational in 2020. By that time, the project is expected to produce 425,000 tonnes of copper and 460,000 ounces of gold per year.
A version of this article was first published by AMM sister publication Metal Bulletin.