James Regan Sydney

Former Chinese commodities trader Jerry Ren, who is quietly building a mining empire in the Australian outback, scoffs at talk the resources boom is over. For him it has just moved north.

As some mining firms clock up billions of dollars in losses, Ren has secured millions of acres of exploration rights in Australia’s most remote regions that could soon make him a billionaire, helped by his connections in the biggest consumer of minerals, China.

Ren, now an Australian resident, has already been dubbed the “$900-million man” (R9.2 billion) for his estimated net worth.

“There’s still plenty of money and opportunity in Australia if you know where to look,” says Ren, the son of a steel mill engineer who grew up in the shadow of the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong’s disastrous attempt to modernise China’s economy.

Ren’s privately held Australian Oil & Gas company holds a 75 percent stake in exploration rights covering an area larger than Afghanistan.

Under-exploited by heavy hitters like BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto as Australia’s last boom took shape further south in established iron ore and coal fields, Ren has had a near-free run to stake his claims in the Northern Territory.

Ren’s licence holdings stretch from the oil-rich seas off the tropical city of Darwin, south through the moonscaped Tanami Desert, one of the last unexplored parts of Australia, to the isolated outback town of Alice Springs.

And Ren’s established mining operations in the Northern Territory are already reaping handsome rewards. Using links to China’s industrial sectors, Ren has secured deals to ship freighters loaded with iron ore, ilmenite and other minerals to China, mostly via the territory’s little used port of Darwin, the closest Australian city to Asia.

One of his companies will start exporting ilmenite to China this month for manufacturing lightweight alloy for aircraft parts and paint pigments.

Two others are getting ready to mine iron ore. Another already supplies aluminium foil containers for food packaging.

“Make no mistake, China’s economy is still growing and they are still in the market for Australian minerals. This talk of the end is foolish,” says Ren, who regularly leads delegations to China to drum up new investment opportunities.

In June, as part of a government and business delegation, Ren negotiated a deal with Chinese heavy machinery giant XCMG Construction Machinery to construct a A$60m (R555m) assembly and distribution plant in the Northern Territory.

Total, Norway’s Statoil, and Australia’s Santos are recent investors there. “In Australia, the Northern Territory is the place to be,” Ren says. – Reuters