Chile’s Codelco to expand to the rest of South America

It’s Ecuador and Colombia next for Chilean copper giant Codelco, as the company proceeds with plans to become more international by exploring mining opportunities in neighbouring countries.

At the recent Metal Bulletin International Copper conference in Hamburg, Rodrigo Toro, Codelco’s Vice-President of Business Development, said his company will establish a subsidiary operation later this year to advance this work, reported this week Metalbulletin.com.

“We will not have spare capacity to do massive investment elsewhere, but we will look at nearby countries,” Toro was quoted as telling conference delegates.

One of Codelco’s strategic priorities is to expand its international presence and more actively increase its copper reserves, as stated by CEO Diego Hernandez earlier this month. On March 6, Hernandez announced Codelco would invest US$4.3 billion in various projects in 2012, including its projects in Ecuador and Colombia.

Last November, Codelco and the National Mining Company of Ecuador (ENAMI EP) signed an agreement to explore that country’s copper potential, which could be as high as US$200 billion in untapped deposits. Under the agreement, Codelco will invest between US$10 million and US$30 million in Ecuador over the next four years. This is in addition to the US$3.5 million Codelco has already spent since 2008 in basic exploration of 20 prospects, including in El Palmar, an area located north of the capital, Quito.

At the agreement’s signing, Angelo Aguilar, ENAMI EP’s manager of International Exploration, said “Codelco will continue exploring options in Ecuador, as a leading mining company that respects the communities where it operates, adheres to local legislation and applies the same standards and values it does in Chile.”

Over the past 15 years, mining in Ecuador’s north has been strongly opposed by the local communities, with several international mining companies failing to establish a foothold in the area.

Meanwhile, in January, Colombia’s minister of Mines and Energy Mauricio Cardenas invited Codelco to visit his country with a view to reaching an agreement on copper exploration.

“Coldelco doesn’t have much activity outside of Chile,” Cardenas said to El Mercurio, a Chilean newspaper.  “So it would be significant if in its first ventures abroad it came it came to Colombia to develop our copper mining.”

Colombia’s copper production is virtually non-existent, Cardenas added. Instead, the country is known for its coal and gold production.

The areas the Colombian government has designated as high potential for copper production are in Tolima, Antioquia and an area between Cundinamarca and Boyaca.