Rio and Mongolia agree to replace $7bn plan to expand copper mine – by Khaliun Bayartsogt (Nikkei Asia – March 1, 2021)

ULAANBAATAR — After weeks of escalating tensions and leadership turmoil, Mongolia and Rio Tinto have agreed to work out a new arrangement to finance the costly expansion of the vast Oyu Tolgoi copper mine, Nikkei Asia has learned.

The rising cost of the new underground phase of the mine, one of the world’s biggest copper deposits, played a role in bringing down both Mongolia’s previous prime minister and Rio’s last chief executive. This appears to have helped set the stage for changing the terms of how the two co-owners of the project will share the expense.

Public irritation has been running high in Mongolia after new figures emerged late last year showing that the government could not expect to start receiving dividends from its 34% ownership of the mine in 2032 as originally expected.

Rather, due to a new two-year delay and a $1.5 billion jump in the project’s cost to $6.8 billion, the government is concerned it may not receive any dividend before the mine’s reserves are depleted.

While Rio has solely financed the construction and operation of the mine and provided Mongolia with a loan to finance its share of the mine’s ownership, it also gets all the profits for now, with Rio taking a management fee and payments on its loan out of Oyu Tolgoi’s earnings.

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