Chile election favorite talks up state lithium firm, slams 'error' of privatization

SANTIAGO, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Chilean leftist presidential candidate Gabriel Boric, the front-runner in surveys ahead of a Dec. 19 run-off vote, talked up his plans for a state lithium firm on Wednesday and slammed the Andean country's "historic error" of privatizing its resources.

Chile, which sits on South America's 'lithium triangle', has the world's largest reserves of the ultra-light battery metal, which is key to the booming development of electric vehicles. Prices are rising amid expectations of hot demand.

Chile, a regional bastion of market-friendly policies and privatization in recent decades, is also the second largest producer behind Australia. Its major mine operators include Albemarle Corp (ALB.N) and local player SQM (SQMA.SN).

"Chile cannot once again make the historic mistake of privatizing resources, and for this we will create the National Lithium Company," Boric tweeted.

He said the move would help generate jobs and put a "Chilean seal" on the product.

"Lithium is the mineral of the future, used in millions of electronic devices."

Boric has previously included plans for a state lithium firm in his campaign program, but kept relatively quiet on the topic in the run-up to the first round vote on Nov. 21, where he came a close second.

Boric will face off against far-right rival Jose Antonio Kast in the run-off, with surveys giving the leftist a big lead. read more

Chile is also the world's largest producer of copper, and lawmakers are currently debating plans to raise royalty payments for mining firms to bolster state coffers and fund social spending needed to bounce back from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chile's state-owned Codelco is the world's largest producer of copper, though many other private firms also mine copper in Chile.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Kevin Liffey

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.