Subsoil use bill hinges on freeing foreign investment-minister-1

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MOSCOW, July 19 (RIA Novosti) - Work on drafting a law on subsoil use is directly dependent on the lifting of restrictions on foreign investor access to Russia's strategic sectors, the natural resources minister said Wednesday.

"The law limiting foreigners' access to strategic sectors and the law on subsoil use are interrelated," Yury Trutnev said.

He said foreign investment was a political issue.

"How we treat foreigners is to be determined not only by the Natural Resources Ministry, but there should also be a political decision on the matter," he said.

President Vladimir Putin said in June that Russia planned to impose restrictions on access to large deposits of mineral resources, but did not mean to deny foreign companies access to them.

He said restrictions did not mean foreign companies would have no access to deposits that could be classified as "strategic," but that the state should have greater control over them.

Foreign companies are currently allowed to hold no more than 49.5% in projects involving "strategic" deposits - primarily in the energy sphere, but also including metals such as gold and copper.

The list of the deposits, which is yet to be completed, is part of a bill currently being considered on Russia's mineral reserves. The bill says the state has the sole right to sell or transfer subsoil exploration licenses and that exploration rights should be sold primarily through auctions.

It also includes provisions establishing bond security and transferability of rights mechanisms, and limiting subsoil contract rights in favor of Russian companies.

Trutnev said earlier that the definition of volumes of strategic deposits should be adjusted downwards from the proposed levels, which stand at 75 billion cubic meters for natural gas, and 150 million metric tons (1.1 billion bbl) for oil.

He said his ministry suggested making the starting point for strategic oil deposits 70 million tons (514.5 million bbl), whereas the figures for natural gas and gold should be 50 billion cubic meters and 50 tons, respectively.

Putin also said Russia would seek long-term contracts in the sphere.

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