Peru to relax environmental rules to spur economic growth -govt

LIMA, June 12 Thu Jun 12, 2014 9:25pm EDT

LIMA, June 12 (Reuters) - Peru plans to apply fewer environmental fines and ensure development rights in protected nature reserves as part of a bid to encourage mining and energy investments, the government said on Thursday.

President Ollanta Humala said late on Wednesday that he was sending Congress a series of proposals designed to perk up relatively sluggish economic growth.

The finance ministry said the package would add at least 1.5 to 3 percentage points to economic growth in two or three years.

Besides continuing an effort to cut red tape and speed up investments, the changes include encouraging energy projects by protecting concession rights in places like nature reserves.

"It's estimated that this will untangle at least $11 billion in hydrocarbon projects," the ministry said in a statement.

The plan also proposes cutting fines levied by environmental regulator OEFA by 65 percent.

"Maintaining environmental rules, OEFA will apply, over three years, 35 percent of the fines it would charge," the ministry said in a statement.

The changes appear to reverse previous efforts by Humala's environment ministry, which announced in recent years that it would triple the maximum fine on polluting companies and close a legal loophole used to get out of paying them.

Some companies have called for a more gradual application of the biggest environmental fines.

The environment ministry, which will help host international climate talks in Peru later this year, did not respond to requests to comment.

Humala was elected partly on promises to make sure mining, which makes up about 15 percent of the gross domestic product, does not come before the environment or local communities.

Peru is a top producer of copper, gold and silver, but falling mineral exports have dragged down the Andean country's rapid economic growth from rates that once topped 6 percent.

The World Bank now expects Peru to grow 4 percent in 2014 - lower than the 5.5 percent expansion it estimated early this year.

The economic package also includes forgiving some $7 billion in interest on back taxes owed by local companies, the finance ministry said. (Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Eric Walsh)