Argentina’s government outlines lithium growth ambitions but macroeconomic uncertainty lingers, analysts say

The current Argentinian administration under President Alberto Fernández is committed to developing the lithium resources that the country owns, although the government’s efforts could be dampened by the lingering historic macroeconomic instability of the state, analysts told Fastmarkets.

In early April, Argentina’s government announced it had set up the “Mesa Nacional del Litio” roundtable in collaboration with the nation’s lithium-rich provincial governments of Jujuy, Catamarca and Salta. The roundtable is tasked with the development of lithium exploitation and its industrialization.

Key plans considered by the working group include:

  • Working on the unification of the laws on lithium exploitation and industrialization across provinces with a focus on sustainability.
  • Promote projects that further develop the lithium value chain within Argentina.

“It is paramount to incentivize private investment to develop the [lithium] sector,” Matías Kulfas, Argentina’s productive development minister, said at a virtual event in early April.

“Argentina has a great energetic potential that is underexploited, and we have to develop it in the next years,” he said.

Argentina already has an enormous amount of identified lithium resources in 20 projects, of which 10 of these hold 86% of identified lithium resources, Argentine Mining Secretary Alberto Hensel highlighted during the virtual event.

“The geological potential of the country is 350 million of tonnes [of lithium carbonate],” Hensel said.

Argentina is nestled in the “lithium triangle,” alongside Bolivia and Chile, which holds more than 70% of the world’s reserves of lithium beneath its salt flats.

In recent years, the Argentine economy has faced numerous economic challenges, including an unsustainable build-up of debt, rapid depreciation of its currency, economic contraction and inflation.

The tone of the Argentinian government’s message is encouraging and a call to invest in lithium “is positive news, as Argentina is perceived as a risky jurisdiction [and the government’s commitment] could help lower investors’ anxiety,” according to Daniel Jimenez, a partner at Chile-based consultancy IliMarkets.

“Argentina has excellent lithium projects, and it is very positive the government is promoting it. This won’t – in my opinion – compensate for the macroeconomic instability of the country that I think is a major factor for at least the next two years,” Emily Hersh, partner at Buenos Aires-based mining consultancy DCDB, said.

Lithium prices have surged globally since the beginning of the year due to tightness in supply.

The persistence of this tightness has supported lithium prices in the seaborne Asian market, a key consuming region of the ultralight metal.

Fastmarkets’ assessment of the lithium hydroxide monohydrate, 56.5% LiOH.H2O min, battery grade, spot price, cif China, Japan & Korea was at $12.50-13.50 per kg on Thursday April 29, up by 6.12% from $11.50-13.00 per kg one week earlier.