SANTIAGO (Reuters) – A foreign-backed miner has sued Chile to block state-run Codelco from exploiting a lithium deposit where both have claims, according to a lawsuit filed in March that will be carefully watched by potential investors being courted by the country’s new government.
The little-known and remote Maricunga salt flat is far smaller than the expansive Salar de Atacama, where top lithium producers Albemarle and Chile’s SQM SQM_pb.SN rule supreme.
But the legal conflict at Maricunga under the newly inaugurated conservative government of President Sebastian Pinera may prove a bellwether for foreign miners anxious to invest in Chile, which is home to half of the world’s lithium reserves.
The skirmish has pitted Salar Blanco, 50 percent owned by Australia’s Lithium Power International, with smaller stakes held by Canada’s Bearing Lithium and local capital, against state copper miner Codelco [COBRE.UL], in a country famously protective of its lithium.
Lithium is among the world’s hottest commodities and a key ingredient in the rechargeable batteries that power everything from cell phones and tablets to electric vehicles.