When Barrick Gold began to test the Pascua Lama deposit that straddles the border of Chile and Argentina, it knew the potential was there for a world-class gold producer. Defining resources high in the Andes Mountains was the easiest part of the job. Much harder was waiting for the two countries' governments to draft a treaty that would allow free movement of employees and equipment in the pit.
Working out the finest points of the Mining Integration Treaty took more than decade. It covers not only the unrestricted border crossings at the mine site, but spells out environmental protection measures and settles questions of taxation.
The US$3-billion Pascua Lama project is only the beginning. At last month's Chile and Argentine mining convention, delegates learned that, thanks to the treaty, total investment in the Frontera Region is expected to top US$7.5 billion.
Xstrata Copper has advanced its El Pachon copper project to the pre-feasibility stage. Plans call for an open pit, processing plant and tailings management area in Argentina and a concentrate pipeline, filtration plant and port facility to be located in Chile.
Rio Tinto has explored the Amos-Andrés porphyry copper deposit that straddles the border near where General San Martin led his army over the mountains to defeat the forces loyal to Spain and secure independence for Chile in 1817.
Other exploration projects—Las Flechas copper-gold, Vicuña gold-silver-copper and Cerro Cuadrado lead—along the border could also become mines. Vancouver junior NGEx Resources has interests in these properties.
The mineral wealth of the Andes Mountains is only beginning to be explored. The potential is there for many new producers. The accord between Chile and Argentina was a necessary first step toward unlocking such wealth.