Arnaud Soirat: OT agreements are not renegotiable (Part 2) www.zgm.mn
GM Daily had the opportunity to sit down with Arnaud Soirat, Rio Tinto’s Chief Executive of Copper and Diamond, about the company’s future. The first part of the interview, which covered the stanceon the current turmoil around the Oyu Tolgoi (OT) project, was published on June 14th issue of ZGM Daily. Scan the QR code to read the first part of the interview.
How do plan to contribute to solving social problems of the workers on-site? It has been widely debated that a town near the site will be solution to many problems such as divorce?
-Yesterday, I went to visit Khanbogd town and I am very impressed by the work that has been done. I am sure that you have read in the newspaper where politicians are saying nothing has been done. Maybe you should ask them a simple question. “Have you gone and seen them by yourselves? What has been done?” Because, when you go, it is impossible to say that Rio Tinto has done nothing. It is not true at all. Actually, we have already done a lot. We have helped building the key infrastructure for a town. We have built the water treatment plants and we have visited the veterinary clinic, which is going to help the herders have healthier stock in general. We have built schools too. So, we have built lots of infrastructure, which are the enabler for the town to grow. The town has already grown quite a lot. Compared to ten years ago, the population has been tripled. But we are not a real estate business. Our job and purpose are not to build a town. We can be a catalyst, but the government and private investors have got their own roles to play.
-You have said the investment agreement and the UDP are the foundation of your investment. Some populists are stating, they might want to renegotiate the agreement. What does that mean to the company? Also, the election is coming up in two years, which significantly increases the risk of that actually happening.
-We are prepared and waiting to invest in the country. Because waiting is the right thing to do for the country, for Mongolian people and for shareholders. But we cannot invest if we do not have stability. Therefore, those agreements cannot be renegotiated. They have been negotiated in good faith. We need those agreements to be honored, first to continue investing.
I am convinced that within the existing agreements, there are many more things we can do together. For example, power. We are committed to building a power station in Mongolia, using the coal from Tavan Tolgoi that will supply electricity to OT. That is the commitment that we made in the investment agreement. Yet, we cannot do it on our own. We need permits. We need the Government’s support. Currently, we are having difficulties to get the support of the Government. This is a great example of how, within the existing agreement, we can create more value for the country. We do not need to renegotiate agreements to do so.
-What does it take to create more value within the existing agreement?
-We are currently buying power from Inner Mongolia, which is equivalent between USD 120-140 million per year. So, if we were to build a power station, then this money will stay in the country. If you look at the very strong priorities that we are giving to employ more Mongolian people and to give more of our procurement contracts to Mongolian companies, 85 percent of our contracts are with Mongolian companies. We are, right now, contributing to the diversification of Mongolian economy. Also, we are encouraging “Made in Mongolia”. More of this is creating huge amount of value for the country. So, my point is that these agreements are foundations, on which very reputable international banks and international organizations have lent USD 6 billion. If those agreements are renegotiated, the whole foundation of the lending will collapse. There is an incredible strength in the culture. People are very smart, adaptable and creative. When we give opportunities, entrepreneurs are seizing those opportunities to create new businesses. So, diversification is already happening. I think the parliamentary working group has got the key opportunity to actually explain better to Mongolians why those agreements are good agreements and what we can do together to create environment for us to continue investing.
-Does the many things include a copper cathode factory in the foreseeable future?
We had a commitment to study about a potential copper smelter in the country, which we did. We gave our study to the Government, around August last year. As for the commitment we made in the agreement, the analysis shows that it will be very difficult for the investor to invest in a smelter and get some money back out of it. Mongolia has a geographical situation such that it would be very difficult to have a profitable smelter. So, we gave the conclusion to the Government that we are not interested in investing in a smelter. However, if the Government were interested for strategic critical reasons, for example, to create jobs, that is up to them to invest if they wish so. We have given the commitment that would be selling copper concentrates to local smelter at the international market price to enable that smelter to import.