Rio Tinto in search of next Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia

Mining giant Rio Tinto (LON:RIO) and its Canadian affiliate Turquoise Hill (TSX:TRQ) are once again exploring Mongolia’s metals-rich Gobi desert, following the country’s renewed efforts to attract foreign investment.

Last month, the landlocked country bordering China and Russia decided to open more than one-fifth of its territory for mining exploration, hoping to shore up its finances following an International Monetary Fund-led bailout.

Mongolia’s renewed efforts to attract foreign investment it’s bearing its first fruits.

Since mining accounts for around 25% of Mongolia’s GDP and more than 80%of exports, experts believe that increasing mining exploration could potentially raise the Asian nation’s GDP and economic security.

Mongolia also revoked a controversial banking law that would have required companies including Rio Tinto — the country’s biggest investor — to funnel all sales revenues from foreign investment projects through local banks and proposed the wider exploration area.

"I can confirm that we have an exploration drilling programme in licenses outside of the Oyu Tolgoi licenses," Turquoise Hill spokesperson Tony Shaffer told Reuters Tuesday. The Rio-controlled firm holds a 66% stake in the Oyu Tolgoi project. The Mongolian government owns the rest.

While Oyu Tolgoi is the country's highest profile mining operation, Mongolia hosts a number of other copper, gold and coal mines and projects, including Canada’s Erdene Resource Development (TSX:ERD), the company that literally struck gold earlier this year after finding its new gold project was richer than previously thought.

Australian explorer Xanadu Mines (ASX:XAM) is also among the established companies in Mongolia, with its underway Kharmagtai copper-gold project, south-east of Ulaanbaatar, returning exceptional results in the first months of this year.