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ECONOMY | 27-09-2023 19:05

Lithium boom in Argentina hinges on politics, Zijin unit says

Hurdles to lithium development in neighbouring Chile and Bolivia have opened the door for Argentina, says top industry official

Argentina is already the world’s fastest-growing producer lithium producer. But if the country wants to overtake some of its regional rivals, it needs the incoming administration to ensure business conditions are ripe for developers, according to the local unit of China’s Zijin Mining Group Co.

Hurdles to lithium development in neighbouring Chile and Bolivia, such as tax hikes and tougher environmental standards, have opened the door for Argentina, said Tomas de Pablos Souza, president of Liex SA. To seize the moment, Argentina’s next administration, which takes office at the end of the year, must shun the unpredictable state interventionism that has dampened growth in several industries, he said. 

“We’re facing a unique opportunity,” he said at a Bloomberg event in Buenos Aires. “We don’t know if this train will ever come again, so we need to hold on tight and ride it — it’s a matter of waiting a few months to see what policies await us.”

Argentina is currently the fourth-biggest producer of lithium. Some experts say the nation has the potential to propel itself within a few years into second place behind Australia, if the country is able to take advantage of its considerable reserves. Meanwhile, demand for lithium is soaring as the metal is a key component in batteries for electric vehicles. 

Opposition candidates Javier Milei and Patricia Bullrich, vying for the presidency in the October 22 vote, both promise to deregulate the economy.

De Pablos Souza implored Milei, Bullrich and Sergio Massa — running for the incumbent, leftist Peronist party — for clear rules and legal protections for companies, as well as approval in congress of so-called electro-mobility legislation to encourage lithium investments. His call for better business conditions echoed recent public comments by shale oil drillers including Chevron Corp and crop traders.

Zijin unit Liex is developing the Tres Quebradas site on the Argentine side of South America’s lithium triangle. A project majority-owned by Ganfeng Lithium Group Co became the third Argentine lithium project to enter production earlier this year. Zijin is also planning to build a cathode plant in Argentina.

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by Jonathan Gilbert, Bloomberg


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