(Adds quote on rail project, context)
By Mitra Taj
PERU PRESIDENTIAL PLANE, May 17 (Reuters) - Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra told Reuters on Friday that China could partner with Bolivia and Peru on a massive intercontinental railway project that Peru once dismissed as too costly when pitched by China nearly three years ago.
In an interview on the presidential plane, Vizcarra said studies on the project had continued and that China might be a natural fit because it would be one of the biggest buyers of commodities the railway could deliver from Bolivia and other South American countries to a port on Peru’s southern Pacific coast.
“Between the two of us (Peru and Bolivia) we need a third partner to help turn it into reality,” Vizcarra said. Asked if China might still be that partner, he said, “Yes, of course, because we need a partner that benefits from the project ... Is it the only one? No.”
China previously estimated the railway project would cost some $60 billion.
Last month, Peru signed onto China’s global Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, despite U.S. warnings to Latin America against tightening ties with Beijing.
China overtook the United States as Peru’s largest trade partner years ago, thanks largely to its imports of copper and other minerals from the South American country.
But Peruvian copper production has been partly impacted by community resistance to large projects. Vizcarra said there was not yet enough support from surrounding communities for Southern Copper Corp’s long-delayed $1.4 billion Tia Maria project to start construction.
The project, a 120,000-tonnes-per-year proposed copper mine derailed by deadly protests in 2011 and again in 2015, could face at least another year of delays if the government does not issue a construction license for it before its approval for an environmental permit expires in August. (Reporting by Mitra Taj, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)