MAC: Mines and Communities

Rio Tinto's take on the challenges of resource availability

Published by MAC on 2017-11-07
Source: Reuters

London Calling comments

Last week we presented a crisp analysis of "resource availability" in the 21st century, by John Beddington (see: The major challenge of resource availability in the 21st century) .

Now Rio Tinto - the world's second largest diversified mining company - has come out with its own view of what the future holds.

The company claims  Africa to be the "largest untapped source of growth for our industry...providing us with the opportunity, in partnership with the east, to be part of the once-in-a-lifetime transformation story".

So, metals and materials will be dug up on earth's poorest subcontinent, to serve the pretended needs of growing middle-classes in China, India, and elswhere in Asia.

No surprise there - Rio Tinto has been doing much the same  for over a century, while the Chinese state has become the company's pre-eminent shareholder. 

New markets may be radically re-targeted, but the colonial trope appears as much in evidence as ever - though now dressed up in more evocative and fancier clothes.

Rio Tinto throws its weight behind Africa as mining central


2 November 2017

LONDON – Africa, as the largest untapped source of growth in the mining sector, is pivotal in helping Rio Tinto and other resources companies to supply the changing needs of the huge Asian market, a senior company official said on Wednesday.

The comments, delivered at a Bloomberg forum as part of LME Week, is a vote of confidence in Africa, which has suffered from investor caution over political risk and corruption scandals.

"From a mining perspective, Africa is the largest untapped source of growth for our industry," Bold Baatar, Rio Tinto's chief executive of energy and minerals, said, according to a copy of his speech.

"This provides us with a huge opportunity. It provides us with the opportunity, in partnership with the east, to be part of the once-in-a-lifetime transformation story of Africa."

Rio Tinto has strong relationships with China and other Asian customers that buy approximately 70 percent of its products.

China's development required bulk commodities, such as iron ore, but its needs are evolving as it focuses on implementing environmental standards and seeks to lead a shift to electric transport.

The world's biggest miner BHP has emphasised copper as its commodity of the future.

Rio Tinto, the second biggest major, has a massive copper project in Mongolia, but is also looking at less traditional commodities through its unit Rio Tinto Ventures.

They include the rare earth mineral monazite, used in heavy magnets for electric vehicles, which is produced from Rio Tinto's mineral sands project in Madagascar.

Elsewhere in Africa, Rio Tinto in Guinea mines bauxite, used to produce aluminium, which can make vehicles lighter and more energy efficient.

Rio Tinto is selling its stake in Guinea's giant Simandou iron ore project to Chinalco, China's biggest state-run aluminium producer, although the deal announced more than a year ago has yet to be finalised.

Rio's relationship with Africa has had its challenges.

It suspended one senior executive and accepted the resignation of a second after discovering $10.5 million in unexplained payments to a consultant in Guinea.

It also faces fraud allegations over coal assets it once owned in Mozambique.

Investors have this year been particularly wary of Africa after Tanzania banned unprocessed mineral exports as part of a plan to reap greater rewards from international miners, and South Africa proposed a new mining code that the industry has challenged.

(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Mark Potter).

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