Rio Tinto Ltd has launched the first shipment of copper-concentrate from the $US6.2 billion Oyu Tolgoi mining project, which has been hit by a string of delays amid ongoing tensions with the Mongolian government.
Rio had forecast it could start exporting by the end of June if it could settle a dispute with the Mongolian government on costs and development of the mine.
Rio's subsidiary Turquoise Hill Resources, which is building the mine, has struggled with significant cost blowouts, a downgrade in forecast production and hike in operating costs.
The mine is key to Rio Tinto reducing its dependence on iron ore (see Brendon Lau's Mining for a ROE revival).
Rio Tinto Copper chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said “Oyu Tolgoi starts production at a time when undeveloped quality copper assets are scarce and the outlook for copper continues to be strong".
Turquoise Hill Resources owns 66% of Oyu Tolgoi, with the Mongolian government holding the balance.
The Mongolian government must earn its 34% stake in Oyu Tolgoi once revenue starts coming in, but capital cost issues have sparked tensions between the government and the miner.
Earlier this year, Rio threatened to freeze work at its Simandou iron ore project in Guinea if it could not get an investment agreement signed as the miner takes a more aggressive stance with governments.