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Mexican president reignites debate around mining reform with focus on lithium

Andrés Manuel López Obrador. (Image courtesy of the Mexican President’s Office).

During a recent press conference, Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) warned that if Congress does not approve a constitutional reform on electrical matters next week, following a decision by the Supreme Court of Justice that granted constitutional validity to the new Law on Electrical Power, he will push for a rewrite of the country’s Mining Law.

“In the event that the members of Congress that represent vested interests prevent the reform, in that case, they will not be able to dispose of lithium. They care a lot about lithium, as they want to put their hands on this strategic mineral,” López Obrador said. “If we were to be betrayed, we can still resort to reforming the Mining Law.” 

The president pointed out that amending the Mining Law does not require the approval of two-thirds of Congress but only of a simple majority, that is, half of the votes plus one. In his view, this means that his proposal would get the necessary votes to pass, which would “make lithium a mineral that belongs to the nation, to the Mexicans.”

AMLO said that he is convinced that half-plus-one of the legislators would vote in favour of updating the Mining Law and also mentioned that if such a reform were to be tabled, it would only address the extraction and processing of lithium and it would mean that the battery metal will no longer be “up for grabs.”

Lopez Obrador’s leftist Morena party controls majorities in both chambers of Congress.

The president also suggested that the members of Congress should really think about how they are going to vote next week, as their votes could make them look like either authentic representatives of the people or supporters of particular interests.  

Previous warnings

In late 2021, the Mexican president proposed a mining overhaul aimed at having greater government control over the sector.

The proposed legislation says the government will no longer award concessions to mine lithium “and other strategic minerals” needed for the country’s energy transition. 

The text says, however, that private miners who can already demonstrate proven lithium exploration in Mexico will not be affected by the new restrictions.

Currently, 17 lithium concessions are active, according to official data, including several in northern Mexico held by Bacanora Lithium.

The mining overhaul is embedded within López Obrador’s higher-profile electricity reform.