Rio Tinto Looks at Ecuador as OPEC Nation Seeks New Exports

(Bloomberg) -- Rio Tinto Group, the world’s second-biggest mining company, is considering investing in Ecuador amid a push by the OPEC nation to cut its dependency on crude oil and jump- start its nascent metals industry, Mining Minister Javier Cordova said.

Cordova met with Rio officials in April and the miner is now waiting to see how other local projects fare before making a final decision, the minister said Wednesday in an interview in London. Ecuador, an Andean nation which claims metals deposits similar to those in mineral-rich Chile and Peru, will begin offering new mining concessions in January and is in talks with potential bidders, including SolGold Plc., Cornerstone Ecuador SA and Odin Mining & Exploration Ltd., he said.

The push to attract more foreign investment and boost non- oil exports comes amid a collapse in global energy prices so steep that the South American nation says it’s losing money on every barrel of crude that it pumps. Slumping metal prices make this a difficult time to attract new mining ventures, but the country has passed a series of legal and tax reforms that may help entice companies to invest, Cordova said. 

“We’re not very optimistic because of the industry’s moment, but the most important thing is to start the process,” Cordova said. “It’s important to diversify and since we have the resources, it is the smart thing to do.”

Rio Tinto’s press offices in Melbourne didn’t respond to a telephone and e-mailed message seeking comment on any investment plans in Ecuador. Telephone calls to officials at Odin’s Vancouver office didn’t respond to a telephone message seeking comment on any plans to bid for new concessions. 

'More Competitive'

Cornerstone Ecuador General Manager Yvan Crepeau confirmed the company’s interest in bidding on new mining concessions in a telephone interview Thursday from Quito. Recent changes to the country’s mining laws make Ecuador “much more competitive,” he said.

Brisbane, Australia-based SolGold Chief Executive Officer Nicholas Mather said his company, which operates a joint venture with Cornerstone at the Cascabel copper, gold and silver concession in the country’s northern Andes, was interested in additional exploration projects.


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