Argentina expects investment in its lithium industry to
increase significantly over the next few years, after companies
from across the world approached the country’s
government to register their interest in entering the
Businesses from Japan, France, South Korea, China and
Australia are set to compete in what has become popularly
described as "la guerra del litio", or "lithium war", after
sharp growth in demand for lithium in battery applications
gained worldwide attention.
The Argentinean provinces of Salta, Jujuy and Catamarca have
all been earmarked for tenders to conduct lithium exploration
by international companies, according to local daily newspaper,
Argentina’s newly-elected centre-right
president, Mauricio Macri, who took office last December
following a tightly-contested election, has revived investor
optimism in the Argentinian economy, which had been flagging as
a result of political infighting and fiscal and legislative
"This battle [between foreign investors] grew with the
arrival of the new government for two visible reasons: Mauricio
Macri’s gestures aimed at giving greater openness
to the world in trade and the elimination of taxes on the
mining industry," La Nacion reported.
In February, Kwon Oh-joon, chairman of South Korean battery
manufacturer, POSCO, met with President Macri, following an
announcement that the company would build a 2,500 tpa lithium
plant at Pozuelos Lake in Salta province by the end of the
"We see a very good predisposition of the Macri government
and huge interest in Argentina from South Korean companies,"
said the South Korean ambassador to Argentina, Choo
Separately, Australian and Japanese representatives from
ASX-listed Orocobre Ltd and Tokyo-based Toyota Tsusho Corp.,
which are in the process of ramping up production of a joint
venture (JV) lithium carbonate operation at Olaroz in Jujuy
province, also met with the president.
La Nacion noted that joining a delegation led by
French president Francois Hollande, who was in Argentina for
meetings with Macri in February, were representatives of French
mining group, Eramet SA.
The company plans to invest around $260m in a lithium
deposit at the Centenario-Ratones salar in Salta, in
conjunction with local partner, Remsa de Salta.
A group of Jujuy-based entrepreneurs, meanwhile, recently
met with the Chinese ambassador, Yang Wanming, to discuss the
possibility of a possible Argentinian-Chinese JV.
US-based FMC Corp., one of the world’s largest
lithium producers, currently extracts lithium from brines at
the Salar de Hombre Muerto in Salta.
Notwithstanding the recent rise in lithium prices, some
involved in the country’s lithium business have
warned against getting carried away.
"We’re seeing a lot of activity in the market
at the moment, although it’s not as much as you
might expect," one local operator told IM. The
source added that the election of Macri, coupled with the
economics of the lithium market, which they described as being
"if not in shortage, certainly very tight", nonetheless made it
an attractive investment to foreign business.