May 25, 2018 / 7:54 PM / 25 days ago

UPDATE 1-Chile's Pinera taps businessman Benavides as Codelco chairman

(Adds background on Benavides, upcoming challenges faced by Codelco, mining minister’s comment)

SANTIAGO, May 25 (Reuters) - Chilean President Sebastian Pinera named Juan Benavides, a former chief executive officer of Chile retail leader Falabella, as chairman of the board of directors at Codelco, the world’s top copper producer, the government said on Friday.

Benavides was currently serving as chairman at Chilean private pension fund manager AFP Habitat.

The 60-year-old Benavides had previously led Falabella, one of Latin America’s largest retailers with operations spanning department stores, supermarkets, malls and financial services.

Benavides will help guide Codelco, which produces nearly 10 percent of the world’s copper, through a critical period of transition as it seeks financing from the government for a $39 billion, 10-year overhaul of its sprawling but aging mines.

Several of those projects, including work on the century-old El Teniente and Chuquicamata mines, now face delays for technical reasons and rising costs.

Chile mining minister Baldo Prokurica said Benavides’ appointment “responded to the need to modernize the company, generate profitability for the state and improve labor conditions for its workers.”

The state-run miner last year delivered $3 billion in profits to Chile’s coffers and accounted for 16 percent of the South American nation’s exports. It is responsible for more than a third of Chile’s copper production.

A conservative billionaire who took office in March, Pinera has promised stable financing, improved management and efficiency at Codelco.

Under center-left President Michelle Bachelet, Codelco advanced a mine project in Ecuador and eyed investments as far off as Mongolia. But slumping copper prices until mid-2017 complicated financing at home and abroad.

Current CEO Nelson Pizarro and outgoing board Chair Oscar Landerretche, both appointed by Bachelet, together spearheaded a belt-tightening program at Codelco that has allowed the company to maintain productivity despite a 9 percent drop in ore grades since 2013.

It is still unclear whether Pizarro will keep his job or whether the new board will pick a fresh face.

Pinera earlier this month appointed former mining minister Hernan de Solminihac and Ignacio Briones, a professor at Adolfo Ibanez University, to Codelco’s board. (Reporting by Dave Sherwood Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Tom Brown)

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