Growing demand for battery storage and lithium could be a silver lining for Chile’s mining industry.
In the arid north of Chile some 1,500km from the capital, Chuquicamata has been a plentiful source of copper since before the rise of the Inca Empire in the 1400s.
“Chuqui” – as it is informally known – is one of the country’s most emblematic mines, a symbol of human ingenuity despite the fortnight of labour strikes held this June against mine owner Codelco over job cuts and compensation.
Economic reality sunk in last month when the mine shut down, as miners demanded better wages at the same time the place began an expensive transformation from an open pit to an underground shaft mine.
The problem is twofold: the mine’s massive mineral reserves are dropping whilst copper prices are also declining, so miner pay has been going down. This crisis is a big blow for Chile – the world’s largest copper exporter – where the industry accounts for about one-tenth of the national economy.
The price of copper has fallen by about 10 percent since April, following a trend that many commodities have seen amid global economic instability, hunger for the mineral has weakened. And as the miners in Chuquicamata well know, market factors can translate into real pain.
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