SYDNEY – (Reuters) – Former Chinese commodities trader Jerry Ren, who is quietly building a mining empire in the Australian outback, scoffs at talk the resources boom is over. For him its just moved north.
As some mining firms clock up billions of dollars in losses, Ren has secured millions of acres of exploration rights in Australia’s most remote regions that could soon make him a billionaire, helped by his connections in the world’s biggest consumer of minerals China.
Ren, now an Australian resident, has already been dubbed the “$900-million-dollar-man” for his estimated net worth. “There’s still plenty of money and opportunity in Australia if you know where to look,” says Ren, the son of a steel mill engineer who grew up in the shadow of the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong’s disastrous attempt to modernize China’s economy.
Ren’s privately held Australian Oil & Gas company holds a 75 percent stake in exploration rights covering 70 million acres, 25 percent of Australia’s Northern Territory, or an area larger than Afghanistan.
Under-exploited by heavy hitters like BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) and Rio Tinto (RIO.AX) as Australia’s last boom took shape further south in established iron ore and coal fields, Ren has had a near-free run to stake his claims in the Territory.
Ren’s license holdings stretch from the oil rich seas off the tropical city of Darwin, south through the moonscaped Tanami Desert, one of the last unexplored parts of Australia, to the isolated outback town of Alice Springs.
And Ren’s established mining operations in the Territory are already reaping handsome rewards.
Using links to China’s industrial sectors, Ren has secured deals to ship freighters loaded with iron ore, ilmenite and other minerals to China, mostly via the Territory’s little used port of Darwin, the closest Australian city to Asia.
One of his companies this month will start exporting ilmenite to China for manufacturing lightweight alloy for aircraft parts and paint pigments. Two others are getting ready to mine iron ore. Another already supplies aluminium foil containers for food packaging.
“Make no mistake, China’s economy is still growing and they are still in the market for Australian minerals. This talk of the end is foolish,” says Ren, who regularly leads delegations to China to drum up new investment opportunities.
Ren was born Xiao Feng Ren in the city of Benxi in China’s northeastern rust belt province of Liaoning, where he attended university. He later worked for the China Metallurgical Import and Export Corp and learned about minerals.
The state-owned entity eventually split into two divisions: Sinosteel and the Metallurgical Construction Corp of China. Ren quit in 1989, just as China opened its economy to outsiders.
Before leaving China, Ren traded “specialty” metals like tungsten, molybdenum and ilmenite.
After several years in Europe and the United States, where he worked as a steel consultant, Ren in 2006 settled in the Northern Territory, convinced of its mining potential.
Like Australia’s 20th Century mining legend, the late Lang Hancock, Ren quickly pegged hundreds of thousand of acres of outback land for exploration.
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