Mongolia is expected shortly to approve long-awaited changes to its minerals law that could pave the way for a mining agreement for one of the world's biggest copper deposits, the head of Ivanhoe Mines Ltd has said.
Ivanhoe and mining group Rio Tinto have been waiting for government approval to press forward on the huge Oyu Tolgoi project in Mongolia's Gobi desert.
"The prime minister has vowed to conclude our agreement as soon as possible; parliament was in session this morning, it (changes to the minerals law) could be today. . . or it could come in the very near future," Executive Chairman Robert Friedland told the World Mining Investment Congress in London.
The firms pounded out an draft investment agreement last year that would give the government a 34 per cent stake in Oyu Tolgoi, but the deal was withdrawn.
Once the minerals law is amended, the government is expected to resume work with Ivanhoe and Rio Tinto to conclude the investment agreement for Oyu Tolgoi, one of the world's largest undeveloped copper and gold deposits.
Initial construction has started at Oyu Tolgoi, 80km north of the China-Mongolian border in the South Gobi Desert and northwest of the Chinese industrial city of Baotou.
The first shaft descending 1385m underground was completed in January and tunnelling on a second shaft has been under way.
Average annual production over the mine's life is expected to be 440,000 tonnes of contained copper in concentrate and 320,000 ounces of gold.
Rio Tinto paid $US303 million ($NZ392.7 million) for a 10 per cent stake in Ivanhoe in 2006 and it plans to double its interest when the investment deal is approved. Rio Tinto could raise its ownership to up to 43 per cent under an investment agreement.
Ivanhoe also plans to develop a coal mining project at Ovoot Tolgoi in the desert east of the copper and gold project.