Chile mines minister clarifies controversial new lithium strategy


Chile’s Minister of Mining Marcela Hernando.

A decision by Chile, the world’s no. 2 lithium producer, to tighten control over the key battery metal sector has triggered speculation on what the announced state-led public-private model will look like and how it may affect the global industry.

To address market rumours and clarify aspects of the strategy described by some as “vague”, MINING.COM spoke with Chile’s mining minister Marcela Hernando, who noted the country had announced a strategy, rather than a policy.

“It will become a public policy when it has legitimacy and it is supported by all the political forces of the country,” Hernando said.

Reaching the point of public policy, which includes the creation of a national lithium company (Enal), could take years. 

President Gabriel Boric has, in the interim, enlisted two other state-owned companies — Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, and state miner Enami — to determine how the private-public partnerships will operate.

Codelco will be initially in charge of negotiating for the state a stake in Albemarle’s and SQM’s operations. Enami, in turn, will sign up partners for new contracts. Their roles will be eventually undertaken by a national lithium company.

The government also launched on Tuesday a “Lithium and Salt Flats” committee to coordinate the various ministries and other public entities as well as regional governments taking part in the lithium development process. 

The group would also act as a technical advisory body, the development office — Corfo — said in the statement.

The Chilean state has always played a major role in the mining industry. A 1979 law declared lithium to be a strategic resource, stipulating that its development was the exclusive prerogative of the nation. 

Only SQM and Albemarle are currently licensed to produce lithium in the country, and in only one salt flat — the Atacama. The government wants to expand production both in Atacama and in any or all of the other 18 salt flats that have been identified.

The minister explained that the government will only seek control of the operation — via different mechanisms, not just majority participation — in projects that are considered strategic.

Currently, the only strategic lithium area is the Atacama salt flat, Hernando said. In the others, each company will negotiate with representatives of either Enami or Codelco. The result of such negotiations will be presented to a committee integrated by the ministers of mining, finance, economy and environment, the vice presidency of Corfo and the country’s President.

Hernando said the new lithium strategy contemplates three options of public-private partnership.

Brine pools and processing areas at SQM’s lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat.

In the first one, Codelco or Enami would conduct prospecting and then negotiate the terms of development with interested parties. 

The second modality will see the state partnering with a private company for the exploration stage and will negotiate the next phase with that particular company.

The last option is for the government to grant exploration licences directly to private companies and evaluate results they present.

“Our strategy seeks to help the country create an ecosystem in which more value is added to its lithium industry, especially around issues [such] as technology transfer and worker training,” Hernando said.

Copyright © 2021 - Xiamen Tallrate Drilling Engineering Co.,Ltd. 网站地图