Lithium Boom Takes Chile’s SQM Across Andes in Argentine Venture – by Eduardo Thomson (Bloomberg News – March 28, 2016)

The race to supply lithium to the rechargeable batteries used in cell phones and electric cars is taking Soc. Quimica & Minera de Chile SA over the Andes as Argentina’s new government seeks to open up its reserves.

SQM, the second-biggest lithium carbonate producer, agreed to pay $25 million to Lithium Americas Corp. for 50 percent of Minera Exar, which owns a project in northern Argentina’s Cauchari, the Santiago-based company said in a statement Monday. Exar will update a feasibility study for a project that may produce 40,000 metric tons a year for more than 30 years.

Controlled by Julio Ponce, the former son-in-law of dictator Augusto Pinochet, SQM is looking to join South Korea’s Posco and FMC Corp. in Argentina where President Mauricio Macri has removed capital and currency controls and an export tax in a bid to jumpstart its mining industry.

“Almost all” lithium companies are looking at Argentina right now, Mining Secretary Daniel Meilan told an industry conference in Toronto on March 7.

“One of the main objectives of this deal is to use SQM’s technical experience to reduce risks of developing Cauchari,” Lithium Americas Chief Executive Officer Tom Hodgson said in a separate e-mailed statement.

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