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ECONOMY | 20-01-2022 18:52

Copper majors are taking another look at Argentina, McEwen says

Vast deposits and more welcoming policies have turned Argentina into a lithium hot-spot in recent years. Now the global copper industry is taking another look at the nation. 

Vast deposits and more welcoming policies have turned Argentina into a lithium hot-spot in recent years. Now the global copper industry is taking another look at the South American nation. 

That’s the view of Rob McEwen, whose namesake company is drilling a property in San Juan Province near the border with Chile. Called Los Azules, it’s attracted the attention of large producers such as Vale SA, Anglo American Plc and Barrick Gold Corp. as a potential acquisition, he said. All three companies declined to comment.

While McEwen is looking to advance the project further before considering a sale, the interest from majors is a sign of copper’s auspicious outlook as a key building block in the clean-energy transition, as well as Argentina’s growing appeal as a mining jurisdiction, he said in an interview Wednesday.    

Argentina, where interventionist policies have held back the industry, is becoming a more attractive setting for foreign investors, at least in some of its mineral-rich provinces. The government sees mining as a way to bring in more hard currency to resolve its lingering debt woes, while politicians in the more established jurisdictions of Chile and Peru are seeking a greater share of profits from the industry and more restrictive regulation, boosting Argentina’s appeal.

Already a fairly significant gold producer, the nation’s lithium deposits are now attracting billions of dollars as global electric-vehicle demand heats up, while a unit of Australian iron-ore miner Fortescue Metals Group Ltd is studying options to produce hydrogen from wind power. 

“We’ve seen a number of majors come in and take a close look at Argentina,” McEwen said. “That in itself is giving more comfort to foreign investments.”

For now, he wants to increase Los Azules’ value by moving to pre-feasibility stage over the next year and a half. The company is deploying drill teams and building an access road, although work has been delayed by cultural preservation efforts after hitting fossils. 

The omicron wave has also disrupted some operations in Argentina, including McEwen’s gold-silver joint venture with Hochschild Mining Plc in Santa Cruz province, he said. The San José mine “has calibrated its annual fortnight of maintenance and vacations to ensure its stakeholders remain safe at a time of high infections rates in the country,” Hochschild said in an emailed response.

While McEwen may be focused on Argentine copper right now, the founder and former chairman of Goldcorp still keeps a close eye on the gold market.  

Bullion has lagged other commodities of late. But the inflationary environment eventually will bring gold and silver back into vogue as the broader bull market runs out of steam, he said.

“I would think we should be seeing a 100 percent move in gold and silver if it’s going to stay in line with other commodities.”

by James Attwood, Bloomberg

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