* No end to the boom for prospector tapping outback minerals
* Northern Territory may be Australia's next mining boom
* China links may help develop territory's resources
By James Regan
SYDNEY, Aug 25 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 its 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 world's biggest
consumer of minerals China.
Ren, now an Australian resident, has already been dubbed
the "$900-million-dollar-man" 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 70 million acres,
25 percent of Australia's Northern Territory, or an area larger
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 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 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 this month will start exporting
ilmenite to China 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.
Ren was born Xiao Feng Ren in the city of Benxi in China's
northeastern rust belt province of Liaoning, where he attended
university. He later worked for the China Metallurgical Import
and Export Corp and learned about minerals.
The state-owned entity eventually split into two divisions:
Sinosteel and the Metallurgical Construction Corp of China. Ren
quit in 1989, just as China opened its economy to outsiders.
Before leaving China, Ren traded "specialty" metals like
tungsten, molybdenum and ilmenite.
After several years in Europe and the United States, where
he worked as a steel consultant, Ren in 2006 settled in the
Northern Territory, convinced of its mining potential.
Like Australia's 20th Century mining legend, the late Lang
Hancock, Ren quickly pegged hundreds of thousand of acres of
outback land for exploration.
Hancock is credited with the 1952 discovery of plentiful
iron ore deposits in the state of Western Australia, which few
believed existed. The Hancock family held on to the mineral
rights making Lang's only child, Gina Rinehart, one of the
world's richest individuals.
But Ren hardly fits the gruff, weathered image of an outback
prospector. He is an urbane, fit-looking 50-year-old comfortable
in a suit and the upper class suburbs of Sydney.
Two years ago he paid A$11.5 million for a four-storey
Sydney mansion and sends his sons to a private academy in
Ren regularly joins business delegations to China to
champion the Territory.
In June, as part of a government and business delegation,
Ren negotiated a deal with Chinese heavy machinery giant XCMG
Construction Machinery Co Ltd to construct a A$60
million assembly and distribution plant in the Territory.
Territory Deputy Chief Minister David Tollner said the
agreement would open the door for more Chinese investment.
"This is a big win for Territory business and an enormous
opportunity to position Darwin as a strategic trading and
distribution hub," said Tollner who witnessed the deal being
The Canada-based Fraser Institute, which measures the
attractiveness and ease of mining, ranks the Northern Territory
as one of the best areas in Australia to invest.
Ren is convinced the Territory is rich in reserves but
concedes a lack of infrastructure and land rights issues with
Aborigines makes exploiting them tough.
There are only two main roads crossing the Territory and
neither is fully paved. Ren is reported to have driven a carload
of Swiss investors from the town of Mataranka to his ilmenite
mine on Roper River, a five hour trip on a bone-jarring road,
and asked them to count the cars they passed.
They counted only three.
Ren likes the remoteness of the place because "no one is
here yet", but adds "we could use better roads, that's a fact."
Australia is in the throws of a national election campaign,
with polls on Sept. 7, and both the government and opposition
have issued policies aimed at developing the Northern Territory
as Australia's next economic growth engine.
Publicly listed companies including France's Total
, Norway's Statoil, and Australia's Santos
are recent investors in the Territory.
Aborigines control a fifth of the Territory, through land
rights enacted to preserve their 60,000-year-old culture, and
regularly lock horns with miners over land access and royalties.
Ren says he has become adept at negotiating access to
aboriginal lands. "There's enough in the Northern Territory for
This month his Australian Oil & Gas reached a buy-in deal
with another Australian company, Blue Energy, over a large slice
of the Territory.
"The opportunity is there to find these large deposits
cheaply," says Ren. "In Australia, the Northern Territory is the
place to be."