Peru won't 'impose' troubled Tia Maria copper project after green-light given

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru has given an important green light for Southern Copper Corp’s much-delayed Tia Maria copper mine, but the government cautioned it would not move ahead with the project without the right social and environmental conditions being met.

Prime Minister Vicente Zeballos said on Wednesday the government would not “impose” the $1.4 billion project on the country, after it had earlier received the go-ahead with a construction license from Peru’s mining council.

In August the government had suspended a permit for the project amid violent protests in order to allow officials to evaluate objections from local authorities in the Arequipa region where the plant would be built.

Zeballos, speaking at the presidential palace, said the government recognized the importance of private investment.

“But we also reaffirm that our government will not impose the Tía Maria mining project if there are not the environmental and social conditions for its development,” he said.

Zeballos added that, beginning Thursday, an environmental inspection commission would evaluate the project’s viability.

Southern Copper, controlled by the Mexico Group, said in a statement it planned to develop the project “within the framework of a more favorable social climate” and to work with the local population.

Southern Copper has sought to build Tia Maria for nearly a decade, but opposition from local farmers and residents who fear pollution and loss of water supply has thwarted the effort.

Protests in 2011 and 2015 against the copper project left six dead and dozens injured after clashes with the police that sought to unlock a road to the site.

“It is an abuse of authority to try to impose a project that has not been accepted by the population of the Tambo Valley of Islay province,” said Elmer Pinto, a local adviser.

“It leaves a lot to think about how economic interests trump the decision of the people.”

Tia Maria is expected to produce about 120,000 tons of copper per year and help revitalize the country’s economy. Peru is the second largest producer of copper in the world and the mining sector accounts for 60% of its exports.

It is seen as key to boosting investments in the sector.

“It is an important signal that will boost mining investment and the national economy,” Manuel Fumagalli, president of the National Society of Mining, Petroleum and Energy, said in a statement.

Reporting by Maria Cervantes and Marco Aquino; Writing by Adam Jourdan; editing by Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio