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Better US business landscape is 'major change' for miners

The ease of doing business in the U.S., given decreasing regulations as well as flexible labor and more abundant energy, is "a major change in our business," Freeport-McMoRan Inc. President and CEO Richard Adkerson said Feb. 26 at the BMO Global Metals & Mining conference.

In recent years, Freeport-McMoRan has shifted some of its focus to the potential of U.S. operations and its undeveloped reserves and resources there while shrinking its footprint in some riskier jurisdictions such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Under a heavy debt burden, Freeport-McMoRan sold assets such as the Tenke Fungurume copper-cobalt mine in the DRC for US$2.65 billion in 2016. Meanwhile, facing acute government pressure in Indonesia, it is negotiating the partial divestment of its stake in the Grasberg copper-gold mine.

As in recent quarterly calls, Adkerson highlighted the potential of its extensive sulfide resources in the U.S., which it may develop in the years to come.

Part of the draw involves U.S. labor and changing U.S. regulations. Adkerson said juggling labor — hiring and firing workers as dictated by operations and management — was more flexible in the U.S. as compared to other jurisdictions in which it operates.

He also pointed to "the improved regulatory environment in the U.S." as decreasing the burden from environmental issues and boosting the ease of opening or expanding mines in the U.S.

"It's a real advantage," Adkerson said.

The Trump administration has cut, or sought to cut, energy and environmental regulations in the U.S. while also slashing corporate taxes. It is also considering sweeping protectionist measures on steel and aluminum.