First Quantum suspends copper production in Panama amid blockade

Demonstrations against the contract have turned into an anti-government, end-to-all-mining movement. (Image: Screenshot of stock video.)

First Quantum Minerals Ltd. suspended production in Panama as a blockade of boats restricts key supplies to one of the world’s biggest and newest copper mines.

“Cobre Panama is no longer operating at commercial levels of production,” the Canadian company said in a text message, confirming union comments earlier Thursday.

First Quantum had begun slowing operations at its flagship mine last week amid intensifying protests over the operating contract. The demonstrations include a blockade by small boats at a port used to deliver supplies like coal to a mine responsible for nearly 40% of First Quantum’s revenue last year and about 1.5% of global copper supply.

The future of Cobre Panama faces uncertainty after widespread protests erupted last month over a deal to renew the operating contract. Panama’s supreme court is expected to enter deliberations on Friday to rule on several constitutional challenges to the contract.

“Our site team continues to work to keep the plant, power generation facilities and all associated infrastructure safe and ready for swift ramp up as soon as the international port is reopened,” the company said.

The Utramipa union is urging the government and police to intervene in the blockade in order to get employees back to work. “We are worried as a union because the authorities do not say anything,” union leader Michael Camacho said.

First Quantum’s stock fell 0.9% in Toronto despite higher copper prices. Shares of the Vancouver-based metals producer have fallen more than 50% this year.

The future supply of the wiring metal has become a growing focus for global policymakers and business executives, given constrained long-term supply and demand that’s forecast to surge due to copper’s crucial role in a worldwide push to transition to cleaner energy.

(By James Attwood and Jacob Lorinc)


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