The Next Wave for Minerals
Laos is now positioned for a new wave of mineral discovery and development. The first movers on this wave will have the best opportunity to capitalise on the wealth that will be created.
Laos has 3 world class mines that were born out of a shift towards a market economy and foreign investment in the 1990's. The mining industry stalled due to regulatory uncertainty after the mines were opened in the 2000's, but times are changing:
The existing mines are nearing the end of reserves so the government is under fiscal pressure to replace the large foreign income stream that they delivered.
A revised minerals law has been enacted that clarifies tenure and fiscal issues (although a moratorium on new licenses remains in place while implementing regulations are drafted).
Corporate tax rate (24%), Royalties (6-7%) and government shareholding (maximum 25% paid participation, optimum 15%) compare favourably with many other developing nations. Repatriation of profits is enshrined in the foreign investment law and investment agreements for the existing mines have been honoured.
Recent directives from the Central Committee have specifically mentioned mining as a sector to be promoted. This is a significant change in attitude from the peak government body.
A new system of early stage tenure (Exploration Cooperation Agreements) has been introduced to allow exploration to continue until the moratorium is lifted. Precedents have been set for conversion of these agreements to formal prospecting licenses.
Technical potential in the country remains very high. All three of the large deposits at the operating mines were outcropping at surface and discovered by traditional prospecting methods. The recent virgin discovery of the giant outcropping Xayabouly Pt-Ni-Cr prospect was the result of geochemical follow-up of a vegetation anomaly. Despite these successes, less than 6% of Laos has been covered by modern prospecting or exploration methods.