On Wednesday, Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera awarded two contracts worth US$121 million for the exploitation of 160,000 tons of lithium to the Chinese manufacturer Build Your Dreams (BYD) and the Chilean company Servicios y Operaciones Mineras del Norte.
The tender agreement grants 80,000 tons of marketable metallic lithium to each of these companies, which will have a term of 7 years to carry out their projects’ geological exploration and development. This period could be extended for another two years if necessary. Subsequently, the concession beneficiaries will have 20 years to extract lithium.
The initial call proposed to tender five quotas of 80,000 tons. Still, only two were awarded, representing 1.8 percent of the national reserves of lithium, a mineral used to make batteries for telephones, laptops, and electric vehicles.
Albemarle and SQM, the only two companies currently producing lithium in Chile, competed for minerals. Still, they received no quotas in the tender, which was launched surprisingly in October 2021 and was awarded two days before the original deadline.
The obvious haste in this natural resources privatization process has been harshly criticized by various political and social sectors, highlighting that President Piñera compromised national income less than two months before leaving office.
The tender “seems bad news to us. It reminds me of those mooring laws that were made at the last minute when a government is already leaving its functions,” President-elect Gabriel Boric said after a meeting with 16 governors on Wednesday.