The Philippines lifted its two-year ban on new mining applications, removing a setback for mining companies looking to develop the country’s vast mineral reserves.

The resource-rich Southeast Asian nation ranks third in the world in gold, fourth in copper and fifth in nickel, according to the Philippines Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

Development of mineral resources stalled as the government reviewed mine policies and differences between regional and national regulations. The government is also seeking to raise mining royalties through regulation.

The environment secretary approved a recommendation by the mining regulator for the January 2011 moratorium on exploration applications to be lifted, according to Reuters. The regulator, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, which expects funds for new mine projects and expansion to reach $700 million to $1 billion this year, started accepting new mining applications on March 18.

In a statement, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, which represents the country’s biggest miners, said the move shows the government was responding to the industry’s call for a “stable policy and investment environment.”

Investment in mining, which once made up a fifth of the country’s exports, amounted to $3.8 billion in the six years to 2011. Last year, investments were just $500 million against a government forecast of $2 billion.