Latin America could become this century’s commodity superpower (The Economist – August 8, 2023)

A growing, greening world will be ravenous for Latin America’s commodities. Will it deliver?

The ground approaching the salt flats in Chile’s Atacama desert is pockmarked with white crystals. Underneath sit vast deposits of lithium salts, the ore for the soft, light metal used to make high-capacity batteries. Pumps run by sqm, a Chilean company that is the world’s leading producer of the stuff, hum as they pull up mineral-rich brine. In evaporation ponds, the liquid forms a patchwork of emerald and blue on the blindingly-bright crust.

The operation is the start of a supply chain that ends in the lithium batteries that power electric vehicles (EVs). The global EV fleet will grow at least tenfold by 2030, to 250m, according to the International Energy Agency, a forecaster. Since 2018 sqm’s annual lithium output has tripled to 180,000 tonnes, a quarter of the global total, and will probably rise to 210,000 tonnes by 2025.

Latin America is no stranger to supplying the world with raw materials, but it could be on the verge of a boom. Three forces are pushing the region to become this century’s commodity superpower. The green transition is increasing demand for metals and minerals that Latin America has in large supply, as well as the renewable energy to process them.

The region already supplies more than a third of the world’s copper, used in wiring and wind turbines, and half of its silver, a component of solar panels. Its fertile land produces enough grain, animals, coffee and sugar to help feed a growing global population. Geopolitical tensions between the United States and China are causing countries to look fondly upon investing in a relatively neutral region.

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