(Adds mining minister comments; changes dateline to LIMA)
By Marco Aquino
LIMA, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Peruvian energy and mining minister Juan Carlos Liu said on Thursday he was confident Peru would have regulations for the exploitation of lithium ready in the coming year.
Canada’s Plateau Energy Metals announced in 2018 that it had found 2.5 million tons of high-grade lithium resources and 124 million pounds of uranium in its Falchani deposit in the Peruvian region of Puno.
Plateau said the deposit could become the world’s biggest lithium mine but identified a lack of regulations on mining radioactive materials in Peru as an obstacle. The lithium at the hard-rock deposit can only be reached by also extracting uranium.
Liu told a press conference for the foreign media that Peru had sought international assistance to develop the legal framework for lithium exploitation. He provided no further details but last year the government said it was receiving support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in drawing up legislation.
Peru’s neighbors Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, are part of the so-called lithium triangle containing the world’s largest reserves. They already have projects in full flow to mine the metal that is used in batteries to power electric vehicles, a booming global market.
Liu said that the presence of radioactive uranium in Peru’s hard-rock deposits means the government “must take all precautions for it to be exploited together with lithium.”
Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra told Reuters in August 2018 his government would pass lithium regulation laws here "within six months."
Liu replaced the previous mining minister in October 2019 on a promise to “promote sustainable investment for the benefit of millions of Peruvians.”
Liu also said on Thursday that copper production rose by 4% to 2.5 million tonnes in 2019 from 2.4 million tonnes in 2018 and he expected figures for 2020 to be “superior” still.
Mining sector investments were expected to amount to approximately $6.3 billion across a number of initiatives, compared to $6.1 bln last year, Liu said.
Peru is the world’s No. 2 copper producer and sixth-largest gold producer. (Reporting by Marco Aquino in Lima; Writing by Aislinn Laing; editing by Matthew Lewis and Grant McCool)