From the earliest time of French colonial rule, Laos, a land-locked country in Southeast Asia, bounded by Thailand, Myanmar, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, has been known to potentially host a wealth of mineral resources, including copper, gold and gemstones, among many other minerals. For a number of reasons, including lack of infrastructure and political turbulence during the Indo-China conflicts, little attention was paid to this potential.
In 1986 the Lao Government embarked on a series of economic reforms designed to create conditions conducive to private sector activity. The government is promoting infrastructure development, particularly in the mining and hydropower sectors. In 1997, the first Mining Law was enacted in Laos and this has been updated and revised in 2010. During the past decade, two significant copper/gold mines have been constructed (Phu Kham and Sepon) and a number of hydropower projects have been built, or are under construction.
In the Lao PDR, the government actively promotes foreign investment in nearly all sectors, including mining. The minerals industry is governed by the Mining Act (1997), revised in December 2008. After successful exploration by Rio Tinto and development by Oxiana Ltd., the Sepon gold and copper mine was commissioned in 2001, marking the first modern mine in Laos.
The COW style investment agreements for these mines have been in force since the early 1990s and remain unchanged, indicative of a reliable and long-term investment climate. Significant producers are the Phu Bia copper-gold mine, formerly Pan Australian but recently taken over by Guangdong Rising Assets Management Co. Ltd. (GRAM)., and the Sepon copper-gold mine, formerly OZ Minerals but now a Minerals and Metals Group Ltd. (MMG) operation by way of China Minmetals Corporation (CMC).
Since changing to a market-based economic system, Laos has continued to recognize the importance of developing its mineral resources, including hydro power. Having no industrial base and limited arable land, the value of its mineral resources is increasingly recognized. Due to its recent history, Chinese and Vietnamese interests have enjoyed a significant advantage over western interests and the majority of minerals concessions and licenses are held by companies from these countries, sometimes in conjunction with minority Lao partners.
In June 2008, Amanta signed an agreement with the Government of Laos to explore and evaluate a very prospective area of 200 km² in the north of the country, the Luang Namtha project, making it one of the very few foreign companies to be granted such a concession. Laos has a stable and attractive mining environment.