Column: Chile uses an old copper template for new lithium plan – by Andy Home (Reuters – April 25, 2023)

LONDON, April 25 (Reuters) – Chile’s assertion of state control over its lithium industry has sent shock waves through the new energy metals sector. The country’s two big lithium producers, SQM (SQMA.SN) and Albemarle (ALB.N), have seen their share prices fall on the prospect of having to relinquish majority control of their operations or risk losing their licences once they expire in 2030 and 2043 respectively.

Shares in companies such as Pilbara Minerals (PLS.AX), Australia’s biggest lithium producer, have risen on the premise of slower investment and project growth in Chile, which hosts the world’s largest deposits of the battery metal.

Chile has been here before. The country nationalised its copper sector in 1971, provoking international outrage, particularly in the United States. President Gabriel Boric’s lithium “nationalisation” is a more benign version, using an even earlier copper model. Moreover, Chile is far from the only country seeking to channel the new energy metals boom.


If President Boric’s lithium policy is an echo of past copper policy, the comparison is with the “Chileanisation” programme of the Eduardo Frei Montalva administration in the late 1960s.

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