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lithium reserved for state, or no concessions at all


MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s president said Thursday that no lithium mining permits will be issued for anyone if legislators don’t approve a bill declaring it a “strategic mineral” and reserving any future exploration and mining for the government.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took an all-or-nothing stance when asked about the bill’s uphill fight. López Obrador said he won’t back down in his fight to make lithium, used in electric vehicle and other batteries, “the property of the nation.”

López Obrador sent the bill to Congress last week, but his party doesn’t have the votes to pass it. He accused any legislator voting against it of “treason.”

“If there is an act of treason and they don’t approve making lithium property of the nation, we will deny any request for a lithium mining concession anyway,” the president said.

There are several complicating factors to López Obrador’s stance. His administration also said last week that the eight concessions for mining lithium that have already been granted in Mexico would be respected, as long as they are well on the way to producing the metal.

It appears only one private mining company meets those criteria: Bacanora Lithium, a project in the northern border state of Sonora that hopes to produce 35,000 tons of lithium annually starting in 2023. That company recently accepted a buyout offer from Chinese lithium giant Ganfeng International.

The move is likely to leave Mexico’s only privately exploited mine, expected to start production in 2023, in the hands of a Chinese lithium company.

Moreover, even if the bill were to pass, the Mexican government does not have any mining company capable of extracting the metal.

Also, the lithium proposal is contained in a broader, controversial proposal to change the Constitution to strengthen government control over electricity production and distribution.

The bill would eliminate much of the framework of private sector openings in Mexico’s electrical power market, giving the state-owned utility a guarantee majority market share and allowing it to buy power from cleaner private plants if it so chooses.

Because it changes the Constitution, the bill requires a two-thirds majority and approval from a majority of state legislatures.

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