Rio Tinto Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm (left) shakes hands with Codelco Chairman Máximo Pacheco in Tokyo on November 8, 2023, after they signed the paperwork to formally enter a joint venture to actively explore for copper in Chile’s Atacama region.

Rio Tinto has completed the acquisition of PanAmerican Silver’s stake in Agua de la Falda and entered a joint venture (JV) with Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile (Codelco) to explore and potentially develop the company’s assets in Chile’s prospective Atacama region.

The acquisition, announced on August 1, 2023, comprises a 57.74% operating stake in Agua de la Falda for $45 million and the grant of net smelter returns royalties. It paves the way for Rio Tinto and Codelco to start a joint exploration project at the asset.

“Chile is one of the most important sources of copper and other critical minerals,” Rio Tinto Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm said. “With this partnership, we are bringing together our complementary experience and capabilities. Codelco’s local knowledge and expertise is second to none and we have a global track record in exploration. I am very much looking forward to getting our work on the ground started.”

Jakob Stausholm, Rio Tinto Chief Executive, and Maximo Pacheco Chairman, Codelco met in Tokyo to formalize the new joint venture, which will be known as Nuevo Cobre (New Copper).

“This is an unbeatable opportunity for Codelco and Rio Tinto to join our knowledge, experience, strengths and capabilities to accelerate exploration and development of these assets,” Codelco Chairman Maximo Pacheco said.

Agua de la Falda has previously been explored for precious metals with minimal modern exploration for copper. Analysis by Rio Tinto Exploration indicates it is prospective for new copper discoveries, which will now be the focus of the joint venture.

The partnership builds on a collaboration agreement between the two companies signed in October 2022, aimed at encouraging innovations and technology to improve safety, productivity and environmental, social and governance (ESG) outcomes in underground mining.