December 9, 2018 / 3:24 PM / 2 years ago

China's Tianqi says stake in Chile lithium miner SQM good for both firms

Santiago, Dec 9 (Reuters) - The chief executive of China’s Tianqi Lithium Corp said she believes investing in Chile’s lithium miner SQM will bring “long-term benefits” for both companies, despite strict conditions set for its involvement by local anti-trust regulators.

Vivian Wu told Chilean newspaper La Tercera on Sunday that Tianqi was looking at other potential investments in Chile as part of its aim to “solidify” its position in the new energy resources market.

Last week, Tianqi bought a 23.77 percent share in SQM from Canadian fertilizer company Nutrien for $4.1 billion.

The sale comes as Chinese companies are increasingly scouring the globe for the raw materials necessary to ramp up Chinese production of electric vehicles, which require lithium for their batteries.

The Tianqi deal faced scrutiny from regulators, competitors and consumer groups amid concerns that it would give Tianqi a near monopoly over the global lithium market.

A Chilean antitrust court eventually approved the transaction, placing conditions on the sale that limit Tianqi’s access to SQM business secrets.

Further opposition from former chairman Julio Ponce Lerou, who controls SQM’s majority shareholder Pampa Group, was struck down by the country’s Constitutional Court.

Wu said Tianqi had been surprised by the Pampa’s Group’s intervention but hoped to build bridges now that Tianqi was a shareholder.

“We were surprised to encounter such fierce opposition, even before we officially announced our investment,” she told La Tercera.

Wu said she did not know whether to expect further clashes with the Pampa Group.

“From our point of view, our plans consist of supporting the existing management team and its efforts to grow the business,” she said. “We trust that once we know the Pampa Group and the SQM administration, our interests and goals will be aligned.

“Given how we view the likely growth of the electric vehicle industry, we believe this investment will bring with it very great financial benefits for Tianqi in the long term.”

Wu, together with Tianqi president Weiping Jiang, said she will travel to Chile in early 2019 to meet government officials, SQM executives and, she hopes, Pampa Group representatives.

The firm has started interviewing candidates “both in Chile and abroad” to take up three seats on the SQM board in April.

Under the deal struck with anti-trust regulators, the Chinese miner cannot name any of its executives or employees.

Neither the Pampa Group nor SQM could be reached for comment. (Reporting by Aislinn Laing Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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