SANTIAGO – The world’s biggest copper producer Chile needs to adopt new technologies and improve labor and community relations in order to maintain its global standing, industry leaders said on Tuesday.
Chile’s copper industry is grappling with falling productivity because much of the country’s best-quality ore has already been mined, although it still accounts for 30 percent of the world’s supply of the metal.
This week Chile hosts the CRU World Copper Conference in Santiago, where the nation’s declining ore grades and a dispute at its biggest mine, Escondida, are offsetting relief that copper prices have recovered from the lows of around $4,300 a tonne a year ago. They remain below $6,000.
“If we don’t take a proactive approach, the copper industry in Chile will reduce its global position in the next 25 years in line with the diminishing quality of our assets,” Danny Malchuk, president of operations at BHP Billiton’s Minerals Americas, told the conference.
Such strategies are vital to Chile, where depending on the copper price, the metal can account for up to 15 percent of gross domestic product. Chile’s central bank on Monday said the Escondida strike would knock an entire percentage point off GDP growth in the first quarter, underscoring the importance of copper to the country.
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