SANTIAGO, May 5 (Reuters) - Chilean chemicals group SQM
said on Thursday it has asked local authorities to block U.S. lithium producer Albemarle Corp from expanding production in the South American nation for environmental reasons.
The move came less than three months after Albemarle's Rockwood unit signed a deal with Chilean economic development agency Corfo to significantly increase its output of lithium, a mineral that powers electric car batteries.
Local daily newspaper Diario Financiero reported earlier on Thursday that SQM asked that the deal be invalidated because of what it described as serious violations of environmental regulations during the evaluation process.
"Yes, that is so," a SQM spokeswoman said in an email to Reuters when asked whether the company, the world's biggest producer of lithium, had formally requested that officials block the project, which is located in Chile's Atacama desert.
While underscoring that SQM did not oppose Rockwood's project in principle, the spokeswoman said "we must adequately consider the effects of Rockwood's project on our environmental commitments."
SQM also described the conditions of Corfo's deal with Rockwood as "good" and said it was willing to accept similar conditions.
SQM is on uneasy terms with Chile's center-left government.
In the last two years, authorities have fined a number of SQM executives and former executives for market manipulation and accused the company of providing fake invoices to political figures in order to finance campaigns. SQM is also in arbitration with Corfo over royalties.
Albemarle spent $6.2 billion to buy Rockwood last year. (Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Paul Simao)