Mongolia has halved the number of shortlisted bidders seeking to develop the giant Tavan Tolgoi coking coal mine to three with Chinese and Russian groups still in the running, according to The ASIA Miner. The Mongolian Government is expected to announce results of the bid within weeks.

The government statement did not give the names of the bidders who have been shortlisted, however, Mongolia’s ambassador to China in Beijing said the government would consider the interests of its two neighbors and the groups including Chinese and Russian firms were still in the running.

Tavan Tolgoi is in the South Gobi region and has estimated reserves of 6 billion metric tons (mt) of coal, including the world’s largest untapped deposit of coking coal, which is increasingly hard to find. Mongolia, which has a GDP of around US$6 billion, is hoping to use Tavan Tolgoi to bankroll a long list of infrastructure investments around the country.

The decision to keep China and Russia in the running illustrates the government’s keen awareness it can ill afford to be seen as snubbing either. The landlocked country relies heavily on China for commodities exports but is in talks to access Russia’s railways and ports as it looks to build new trade ties with other Far East countries such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

These considerations mean the two consortiums—Shenhua Energy with Japan’s Mitsui & Co as well as the group comprising state-run Russian Railways, POSCO, utility KEPCO and others—would likely be the final winners.

The government has previously said more than one winner may be picked to develop the project. ArcelorMittal, Vale, Xstrata and Peabody Energy are the remaining contenders. The shortlisting comes after 18 rounds of talks with all six bidders over issues such as pre-payment, mine management and environmental concerns.

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