Chile's lower chamber of deputies set to decide fate of mining royalty bill

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the brine pools and processing areas of the Soquimich (SQM) lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat in the Atacama desert of northern Chile, January 10, 2013.REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile’s lower chamber of lawmakers is set to decide the fate of a bill to hike royalties on mining companies operating in the world’s top copper producer after legislative committees reported conflicting views on the initiative.

The chamber’s finance committee rejected the measure in a 7-5 vote late on Wednesday, with a majority arguing the bill could scare off mining investment at a time when the economy is just beginning to show signs of recovery following months of coronavirus-induced crisis. The chamber’s mining committee, however, had previously blessed the bill.

The chamber has yet to schedule the vote.

The left-leaning opposition lawmakers who introduced the bill say the additional funds are urgently needed to help underwrite social programs and stimulus amid the pandemic. The measure – including a direct tax on sales – has gained momentum in recent weeks as copper prices hit their highest in a decade.

Chile’s sprawling copper industry maintains it has already hit its limit in terms of tax burden, and that hiking royalties could put some smaller mines, with higher-costs, out of business.

Chile’s National Mining Society (Sonami) told Reuters that the bill was also unconstitutional, and has repeatedly warned that its passage would could harm investment.

Lawmakers have proposed changes to Chile’s mining tax scheme several times since the current regime was established in 2011, but the measures have been repeatedly rejected by Congress.

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