Chile says lithium miner Albemarle slow to respond on contract details

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s government said on Monday that lithium miner Albemarle had been slow to respond to the government’s requests for information about a contract the U.S.-based miner signed with the South American country in 2016.

The contract allows Albemarle to produce lithium on land owned by the Chilean government. It requires the company to offer up to 25 percent of its annual production capacity at a discounted price to companies chosen by the government to produce cathode, a critical component of lithium batteries, inside Chile.

Sebastian Sichel, head of Corfo, the government agency that oversees mining concessions in the lithium-rich Salar de Atacama, told reporters on Monday that Albemarle had yet to provide Corfo with the information it needs to determine how much of a discount to apply to the lithium.

“We are waiting for the company to resolve these pending issues,” Sichel said. “For now, what we have is slowness in decision-making on the part of the company.”

Albemarle, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, declined to comment.

Local daily La Tercera reported on Sunday that Corfo had raised concerns that the slow response from Albemarle could turn off the three companies seeking to produce cathode in Chile using the discounted lithium.

Corfo said in March that Chile’s Molymet, China’s Sichuan Fulin Industrial Group and a joint venture between Samsung SDI Co Ltd and South Korea’s POSCO, would begin to produce about 58,000 tonnes of cathode per year by 2020, for a total investment of $754 million.

La Tercera reported that Corfo’s legal team was reviewing the situation to assure the company was complying with its contract with the government.

The Atacama salt flat where Albemarle and Chilean competitor SQM_pb.SN operate is part of the so-called "lithium triangle" in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, a region containing a large portion of the world's lithium reserves.

Investment and output have increased with demand for electric vehicles.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Felipe Iturrieta; Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder