Colombia miners should focus on renewable energy minerals, says Petro

BOGOTA, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Mining companies in Colombia should prioritize mineral exploration needed for a renewable energy transition, President Gustavo Petro told an industry conference on Friday, defending a tax bill which would raise duties on the sector.

Extractive companies have repeatedly said the nearly $5.6 billion reform would negatively affect investment. Petro’s government says it is key to funding social programs.

Petro has a majority coalition in congress, but is willing to negotiate parts of the bill, which would levy a 10% tax on income earned when coal and oil are exported for prices exceeding a certain threshold.

The threshold for oil would be $48 per barrel, while coal exports would see the duty levied when prices exceed $87 per tonne. A bid to include gold exports may be withdrawn, the government has said.

“In the areas where we can explore, let’s search for minerals for clean energy. Let’s search for minerals to fertilize the earth,” Petro told attendees at the Colombia Mining Association conference.

Coal, gold, nickel and nascent copper production account for Colombia’s mineral output. Much of the country remains unexplored for minerals because of an ongoing internal conflict.

Petro, who campaigned on fighting climate change and making Colombia less dependent on oil and coal, has promised to boost solar and wind energy projects, saying falling demand for oil and coal will raise prices for other minerals.

The president defended the potential taxes on exports.

“If the price goes up a percentage of that income will be paid to the state on a concession and a property which belongs to the state,” he said, adding more tax revenue will help reduce the fiscal deficit.

Petro also hailed a court ruling barring mining in environmentally sensitive areas like high-altitude wetlands. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Josie Kao)