Peru: Mining earmarked for investment
Buoyed by an increase in international commodity prices, Peru’s mineral exports are rising rapidly, reaffirming the key role earmarked for the mining industry in spearheading the country’s economic development.
Peru is home to a diverse range of mineral deposits, led by copper and gold, which, together with silver, zinc, lead, iron and tin, make up 60% of current total exports.
The country’s mineral exports have risen dramatically in recent years, from $3.2bn in 2000 to $21.7bn in 2010, as Peru’s mining projects gather pace. Much of the country also remains largely unexplored, boding well for future ventures, with just 11.5% of territory totalling 14.8m ha set aside for exploration under existing mining concessions.
A report compiled by the global mining research firm Metal Economics Group shows that Peru’s 2011 exploration budget ranked fifth globally, behind Canada, which topped the list, Australia, the US and Mexico.
The mining industry now stands poised for further expansion, with the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) expecting around $51.5bn to be pumped into a total of 46 exploration and exploitation projects. But while the sector is bracing itself for heightened activity, questions still remain about how the country will address the problem of social conflicts and “wildcat”, illegal projects that continue to damage the industry, leading to waves of violence in recent years and resulting in more than 100 fatalities.
Figures suggest there are around 200 ongoing environmental disputes linked to Peru’s mining operations that have disrupted some of the country’s key ventures, including its largest mining initiative, Newmont Mining’s $4.8bn Minas Conga gold and copper project.
The government decided to suspend the project in November 2011 over protests about local water supplies and ordered a study of its environmental impact assessment to be carried out by international, independent experts.
Speaking to the local press on April 18, a consultant and co-author of the study, Rafael Fernandez, made it clear he believed the plan could be improved, saying, “There’s no such thing as zero impact, the project requires substantive improvements”. The report will be made public and studied by the ministries involved before the government makes a final decision on the project’s fate.
Illegal mining operations, which spell big business in Peru, also pose a major challenge for the government, with practices flourishing on the back of soaring gold prices, limited economic opportunities in rural areas and the attraction of significant gold deposits in difficult to control, remote regions. The National Society of Mining, Petroleum and Energy (SNMPE) estimates that operations bring in $1bn annually and employ around 100,000 people.
Unsurprisingly, the government’s bid to impose crackdowns on illegal and informal wildcat mining activities has been met with huge resistance. Protests held in March, where campaigners were rallying in favour of activities in the southeastern Madre de Dios region, spilled over into violence that left three dead and more than 30 wounded.
As well as clamping down on illegal activities, the government and the mining sector itself are also taking steps to improve the industry’s reputation and practices by looking at mining’s impact on local communities and the environment.
Shortly after entering office, President Ollanta Humala renegotiated mining royalties with the private sector to increase the government’s annual take from the industry by an estimated $450m, most of which will go towards funding social programmes in the Andean highlands, where anti-mining sentiments are strongest.
The new administration also introduced “La ley de consulta previa”, a new law aimed at protecting indigenous communities and giving them rights of consent to projects on their land.
It will take time for the impact of the new law, which complies with the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169, to be felt, although even in its early stages it is producing mixed reactions. The government will be hoping that over time, its implementation will safeguard Peru’s hugely important mining industry while allowing it to prosper and benefit its people.