Business & Economy

Chilean lawmakers move to block lithium-mining concessions

Santiago, Jan 5 (EFE).- Opposition members of the Chilean Congress put forward Wednesday a bill to block outgoing-President Sebastian Piñera’s plan to auction mining rights for 400,000 tons of lithium.

“This last-minute tender is shameful and practically a scheme by the government to despoil Chile of one its most important natural resources,” Communist lawmaker Daniel Nuñez said in the coastal city of Valparaiso, where Congress meets.

The legislation introduced Wednesday would delay the granting of lithium-mining concessions until after Chile enacts the new constitution being drafted by delegates to an assembly elected last year.

If passed, the bill would cancel the tender that Energy and Mining Minister Juan Carlos Jobet plans to hold on Jan. 14, Nuñez said.

Christian Democratic Sen. Yasna Provoste called on the departing conservative administration to respect the wishes of President-elect Gabriel Boric, who asked Piñera to delay the tender.

“We realize that this government, like the (1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet) dictatorship, will try to benefit its friends up until the last day,” she said.

Boric and members of his team have urged that the tender be postponed.

“Lithium is the mineral of the future, used in millions of electronic apparatuses. Chile cannot again commit the historic error of privatizing resources and so we will create the National Lithium Company, generating employment and a Chilean stamp on the product,” the leftist former student leader said a few weeks before winning the presidency in a runoff against right-winger Jose Antonio Kast.

Jobet defends the planned tender by pointing to Chile’s loss of global market share amid growing demand for lithium, a key component of batteries for electric vehicles.

“Chile is losing the opportunity of lithium, while Australia, Argentina and other countries advance,” he said recently. “In 2016 we were the world’s largest producer with 37 percent (of total output. Today we have fallen to 31 percent and without new projects, we will be at 17 percent in 2030.”

The salt flats of northern Chile’s Atacama Desert hold more than half of global reserves of lithium.

The current method of extracting the metal involves the use of large quantities of water, all but 5 percent of which is lost in the process, and that “primitive” model is a source of concern in the Atacama, the most arid region on Earth. EFE ssb/dr

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