| SANTIAGO, April 3
SANTIAGO, April 3 Chile's Caserones copper mine,
which has suffered a series of technical problems in its ramp-up
stage that have continually pushed back its start completion
date, should be fully functioning by mid-year, a senior mine
executive said Monday.
The mine is now running at more than 90 percent capacity,
Kazutaka Shiba, the chief executive of Mitsui Mineral Resources
Latin America, told Reuters in an interview ahead of
the CRU World Copper Conference taking place in Santiago this
Output at the project - which is 77 percent-owned by a joint
venture between Japan's JX Holdings and Mitsui - has
been behind schedule since it started producing in May 2014 in
the arid mountains of northern Chile, and its issues highlight
the challenges facing miners in the country now that more
accessible deposits have largely been tapped out.
But Kazutaka said Mitsui was committed to the long-term and
further growth in the world's top copper producer. Mitsui's
investments in Chile's copper industry date back to the 1990s
and it now has minority interests in a number of the country's
"We are not looking at operating and probably we don't have
the capability of operating a mine, but we are good at making
strategy and coordinating projects," he said.
He said Mitsui would not turn away from potential new
investments, but was more focused on growing its existing "lower
risk" investments, which as well as Caserones, include
Collahuasi, Los Bronces, and smaller El Soldado.
"We would be interested in increasing our stake (or)
expanding our operations," he said.
El Soldado, which is controlled by Anglo American,
is currently suspended after a regulatory decision. But the
company is appealing and a decision is expected in coming days,
Kazutaka said, and should be positive.
"I am expecting that it will be resolved and we will return
to operations," he said.
Collahuasi, operated by Anglo and Glencore, faces
labor talks this year, in the shadow of an historic strike at
Escondida, the world's biggest copper mine.
Mitsui would not get directly involved in those talks, he
said. But the union and company had good relations and it did
not foresee the kind of problems seen at Escondida.
"I will not deny that there will be some influence from
Escondida, but we believe that Collahuasi will come up with an
amicable agreement with the union. I'm not that worried," he
(Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by David Gregorio)