Argentina, Bolivia and Chile: lithium is gold

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President Macrì has halted exports of white gold. Chile, Bolivia and Argentina collectively own more than 70% of the world’s lithium reserves, minerals presented as 21st century oil, easy to extract, although there are those who doubt that this is a green industry. This white gold is used in industry, including pharmaceutical.

Lithium prices are at the top, more than doubling from the end of 2015 and reaching $ 13,000 (12,243 euros) per tonne. In addition, global demand is rising sharply and could exceed 170,000 tonnes in 2021, according to the Copper National Corporation (Codelco) in Santiago. This soft, lightweight, light-colored, almost silvery metal is not just an essential part of the battery for mobile phones. It is used by pharmaceutical companies to combat bipolar disorder; also used by the nuclear and automotive industries mainly in electric car batteries.

Lithium carbonate is found in desert areas instead of lagoons and lakes drained on high altitude highlands. The mining multinationals have been instrumental in recent years focusing on the so-called “litho triangle”, formed by Atacama salt desert in Chile, Uyuni in Bolivia and “Salar del Hombre Muerto”, in Catamarca, Argentina, encouraged by the governments of these three neighboring states South America who have bet on foreign investment to find new sources of growth.

Chile has been to date the leading lithium producer, with 50 desserts of ground salt, of which the largest is Atacama, in the north of the country, one of the most arid places on the planet, but also a destination for international tourism among the most important and for this little exploited for lithium production, although Chilean ecologists have denounced its plundering. The peculiarity of these salt pans, such as Argentina or the United States, is that they produce lithium carbonate, easier and cheaper to use than the lithium ore found in Australia, Brazil and Zimbabwe.

Chilean President, Socialist Michelle Bachelet, is concerned directly because it wants to reduce the country’s dependence on copper, whose price collapsed in global markets, which has so far secured more than half of its foreign currency earnings. And in January 2016 launched a new lithium policy based on partnerships between Codelco and private companies. But Chile is no longer the only betting on white gold.

Argentina is now running to recover the delay over its two neighbors. Mauricio Macri’s center-right government has multiplied international business openness to offer the best opportunities for foreign investors. It decided in February 2016 to abolish mining export taxes affecting 5-10%. Only a 3% fee must be paid to the provinces where the deposits are located. Over the last few months, businessmen have come from Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, France.

The new white gold
  • South American Lithium Power

Many players

Argentine lithium reserves allow the Japanese industry of computers and mobile phones and, in general, laptops and electric cars to be powered for four years. By reducing taxation, Argentina is about to become the most attractive white gold producer for foreign investors, while its two neighboring countries have become more guarded: Chile has suspended the issue of new concessions to foreign companies and intends require strict control for environmental reasons. And Bolivia banned, for political reasons, lithium exploitation at multinationals. Extra reasons to look at Argentina as did the French Eramet group, the Japanese Toyota and Mitsubishi, the South Korean Posco. And also an important Chilean company, Sqm, works in Argentina.

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