The world’s largest new copper mine rumbled to a start this week in the Panamanian jungle, poised to supply a global market that’s tipping into deficit and gives First Quantum Minerals Ltd. a chance to prove its $10 billion investment was worth all the trouble.
Cobre Panama, a vast mining and processing complex near Panama’s Atlantic coast, processed its first ore on Monday, a half century after the deposit was discovered. At full production in 2021, it will turn Vancouver-based First Quantum into a top copper producer alongside giants like Freeport-McMoRan Inc. and BHP Group.
For Panama, it’s the biggest investment ever outside the canal and makes the Central American country a key supplier to a copper market facing labor unrest and governments grasping for greater takes. The $6.3 billion project will be able to ship its concentrate, thanks to the Panama Canal, to just about any smelter in the world.
“This establishes a new jurisdiction for mining,” Tristan Pascall, the project’s general manager, said in an interview at the facility shortly before the first ore passed through its mills. “There aren’t many projects coming on.”
It’s been a long time coming. For 50 years the deposit had remained tantalizingly but steadfastly out of reach. “Possibly vast beds could rival Panama Canal as economic asset to country,” the Star & Herald, a local English-language newspaper, trumpeted on the front page of its May 1, 1968 edition after a United Nations survey team discovered the deposit.
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