BIG TASK AHEAD

Kazakhstan 2014 | INDUSTRY & MINING | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Gary Hodgkinson, Director & General Manager of Rio Tinto Exploration Central Asia District, on the opportunities on offer in the mining sector.

Gary Hodgkinson
BIOGRAPHY
Gary Hodgkinson is the Director and General Manager of Rio Tinto Exploration in the Central Asia District based in Almaty. Formerly, he held the role of Exploration Manager in Canada. Prior to joining Rio Tinto in August 2008, Gary held a number of positions within De Beers working in Canada, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He holds a degree in Physics and Geology from Rhodes University in South Africa and a Master’s in Geophysics from the University of Witwatersrand. He operated a geophysical contracting company for 10 years after his graduation in 1988 before moving to a major mining company.

Rio Tinto is one of the world's largest mining companies, and its portfolio differs from region to region. Which segments represent the core of your operations in Kazakhstan?

At this stage, our focus in Kazakhstan is essentially on greenfield exploration. We are open to advanced stage projects, but we are presently not involved in any active mining in Kazakhstan. The company's view is ideally to find its own resources via exploration or via acquisition at the early stage. Our focus here is very much on finding new deposits and our team is an exploration team, as opposed to an engineering or mining team, and the primary commodity we are looking for is copper. However, Rio Tinto is a multiple commodity-based company—we are not so much commodity as opportunity focused and, although Rio Tinto is recognized as a leader in iron ore, coal, and copper production, if the economic drivers change the company will pursue the best value opportunities within the sector, irrespective of the commodity.

How do you plan on dealing with logistical difficulties once the exploration phase is over and mining operations start?

Our activities are currently very much focused on exploration, and there is a great deal more work and studies to be completed before we potentially look to develop a mine. Over time, as any project progresses, we will have to look at how we can work closely with the government and communities while developing appropriate infrastructure for future mining operations. In Australia, for example, much of our iron ore is in a remote part of the country. But, over the years, Rio Tinto has supported the development of the required infrastructure and now there is an excellent private rail network. It services a large set of iron ore deposits that are highly valuable, and the cost is fully justified. This also highlights a key aspect of our exploration strategy; availability of infrastructure is an important consideration for both the commodities we explore for and selection of targets—resources in remote areas will need to be of exceptional quality to support the installation of infrastructure.

What is your opinion on Kazakhstan's fame for its friendly business climate?

Kazakhstan provides a friendly business environment, and I certainly feel that people are very open to talking about opportunities. Behind that, there is still quite a large set of challenges in establishing a business here, being able to effectively deliver exploration programs, and navigating the complex legislation. There are still significant bureaucratic challenges to overcome in process and transparency before it will be a completely open business environment.

What will be your main investments in the future?

Our future investment is much results based. If our exploration projects generate the positive results we are hoping for and, importantly, if we can be confident of the continuity of rights from exploration through to production, we will seek to make further investments and increase our exposure here. We certainly believe that there is significant potential for the discovery of additional world-class copper deposits in Kazakhstan, and we would like to be at the forefront of that discovery cycle. We are working closely with the government with full transparency and are proud to be considered its strategic partner, whereby we will be able to support the reinvigoration of the exploration and mining sector. We are open to business with any other reputable companies that are operating here, and will do that transparently and ethically and ensure all our activities are adding mutual benefit, not just for the company and the government, but essentially for the people of Kazakhstan.