Chile is providing the information gateway to Latin America, thanks to the CSIROs International Centre of Excellence in Mining and Mineral Processing.
CSIRO Minerals Down Under Flagship director Jonathon Law spoke at the Sydney Latin America Down Under Conference this morning to outline common challenges facing the Australian and Latin American minerals industries in Chile, and the ways the two countries are working together.
With the minerals industry going through a series of very challenging times at the moment, Law said that research agencies like CSIRO are currently thinking very hard about international strategies.
“We’re trying to be careful not to reinvent the wheel where there are opportunities with other countries,” he said.
“Latin America and Australia are natural partners around innovation in the mining industry.”
Law said that there are a number of issues frequently discussed at conferences, such as energy, water, human capital, declining productivity, community engagement, growing pressure on environmental sustainability, the need for economies to be resilient to changes in one specific sector, and new project opportunities.
“What’s not mentioned so often is the great impact that those issues way beyond any single part of the business,” he said.
“It’s not enough to be economic, you have to bear in mind the geopolitical and social environment, and the environment itself in terms of national policy.
“In Chile, parts of these issues are largely driven by industry, and parts driven by national policy.”
Law said that energy costs around the world are growing, and in Chile the cost of electricity has substantially grown, about 53 per cent over the last five years, now more than two thirds the cost of electricity in Canada.
“Other south American countries have lower costs, but theyre not necessarily sustainable in the longer term.”
Water demand for the mining industry in Chile is likely to double by 2020, thanks to focus on floatation for porphyry copper, the main commodity in Chile, which may put the mining industry on a conflict path with other potential water uses.
Law also said that Chile has a higher cost of human capital than other developing nations, thanks to a faster level of economic change.
There are also a number of positive and negative community impacts on the mining industry in Chile, similar to Australia.
“There are some quite surprising negative issues to do with the development of the mining industry, like overcrowding and drug use, which seem to be specific issues in mining districts in Chile,” Law said.
“However each country has its own culture and flavour that underpins the way the people look at our industry, and I think that’s an important opportunity.
“The mining industry had become absolutely critical for the economy in Chile, it is now very dependent on its minerals economy and Chile is working very hard on long term outcomes."