SQM resumes Chile lithium operations after roadblocks lifted

Lithium brines are found in the middle of Chile’s Salar de Atacama and contain the world’s highest known concentrations of lithium and potassium. (Image courtesy of SQM.)

SQM, the world’s No. 2 lithium supplier, is resuming operations in northern Chile after the lifting of roadblocks by local communities, a company official said Monday.

The final blockades that had restricted the movement of workers and supplies for almost a week were cleared on Sunday as authorities look to ease community concerns over plans to ramp up output of the battery metal. That’s allowing the company to gradually return to normal, the official said.

Communities say they weren’t properly consulted in advance of a deal struck in late December between SQM and state-owned Codelco that would see production increase at the Atacama salt flat under the government’s new public-private development model. They’ve been pushing for President Gabriel Boric to visit the area.

Some groups had continued to protest over the weekend, despite an agreement reached late Friday by indigenous peoples council, CPA, to end the blockades.

While companies and authorities have indicated their intent to involve indigenous groups in decision making, the reaction to the deal underscores the challenge for Boric’s plan.

The SQM-Codelco partnership is a cornerstone of the president’s public-private model as the government prepares to open up new production areas at a time of rising global demand for the key component in electric-vehicle batteries. Chile has the most lithium reserves in the world, but has been losing market share since production is currently limited to just two operators.

SQM shares fell 11% in New York last week, the worst week since the government lithium policy was announced in April.

(By James Attwood)

Read more: Chile president praises Codelco, SQM lithium deal ensuring state control


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