SANTIAGO/VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Chile’s government has asked antitrust regulators to block the sale of a 32 percent stake in Chilean lithium company SQM SQM_pb.SN to a Chinese firm on the grounds it would give it an unfair advantage in the global race to secure resources to develop electric vehicles.
Chile development agency Corfo, which oversees SQM’s lithium leases in the Salar de Atacama, claimed in a 37-page complaint filed on Friday that the purchase of a stake in SQM by “Tianqi Lithium, or any entity related to it directly or indirectly (including companies controlled by the government of China)” would “gravely distort market competition.”
WHY WOULD CHILE WANT TO BLOCK A CHINESE BUYER?
It was unclear if Corfo’s complaint, if upheld, would block all potential Chinese bidders for the stake. But it certainly seeks to block Tianqi Lithium, one of China’s top lithium producers.
SQM and Tianqi are “extremely close competitors … and were one to acquire an interest in the other – even minority – it would have serious anti-competitive impacts on the market,” Eduardo Bitran, the now former head of Corfo, wrote in the complaint.
Together, Tianqi and SQM, the world’s second biggest lithium producer after U.S.-based Albemarle Corp, would control 70 percent of the global lithium market, the document said.