Bolivia gears up for soaring lithium demand

Employees work at a lithium extraction complex in Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia. (AFP)
Updated 16 September 2019

Bolivia gears up for soaring lithium demand

SALAR DE UYUNI, Bolivia: Over 3,600 meters above sea level on the blinding white plain of the world’s largest salt flat, landlocked Bolivia is dramatically ramping up production of lithium to cope with soaring global demand for the prized electric-battery metal.

Bolivia, among the poorest countries in South America, sits on one of the world’s largest lithium reserves, at the Salar de Uyuni — or Uyuni Salt Flats — ready to take full advantage in the coming age of the electric car.

But while it sits at the apex of South America’s “lithium triangle,” along with Chile and Argentina, Bolivia has not had the capacity to produce the metal on a commercial scale.

That will change when its Llipi plant comes online in 2020.

The factory, guarded by the army because of the metal’s value, will have an annual production capacity of 15,000 tons of lithium carbonate, project manager Marco Antonio Condoretty told AFP.

State company Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos (YLB), established by the government of President Evo Morales in 2008 to exploit lithium in the salt flats, aims to make Bolivia the fourth-largest producer by 2021.

Morales, a leftist and former coca farmer, is counting on lithium to serve as the economic engine that lifts his country out of poverty.

YLB teamed up last year with German company ACI Systems to help develop the Uyuni complex.

It’s part of a plan to form strategic partnerships that “bring their technology and guarantee outlets,” said Condoretty.

The joint venture will manufacture electric-vehicle batteries in Bolivia for the growing European market.

China’s Xinjiang TBEA Group came on board with YLB in another joint venture in February to help extract lithium from Bolivia’s two other salt flats, in Coipasa and Pastos Grandes.

Bolivia said earlier this year that Uyuni alone likely has at least 21 million metric tons of lithium, more than double previous estimates.

Until now, the Salar de Uyuni has been a major tourist attraction, and environmentalists have raised concerns about the landscape being irreparably altered by exploiting the lithium deposits underneath.

But Condoretty insisted that lithium exploitation would use “clean technologies” and affect only about 3 percent of the salt flat.

China is the world’s biggest consumer of lithium, with 63 percent of the market, according to Ingred Garces, professor of engineering at Chile’s Antofagasta University.

With its voracious appetite for lithium, the Asian giant has positioned itself at the center of the world’s main deposits of the metal.

By 2025, China will need 800,000 tons of lithium carbonate per year to meet the growing demand for electric vehicles.

China’s Tianqui Lithium Corp. took a 24 percent stake in Chilean producer SQM last December, placing itself inside the “Lithium Triangle,” which has 80 percent of the globe’s known deposits.

Worldwide production grew 23 percent in 2018 to more than 85,000 tons.

 

 


India probes Flipkart, Amazon discounts after retailers complain

Updated 15 October 2019

India probes Flipkart, Amazon discounts after retailers complain

  • Products on Amazon, Flipkart listed at steep discounts in sale
  • Trader groups allege firms violating foreign investment rules

NEW DELHI: The Indian government is looking into whether hefty discounts offered on Walmart-owned Flipkart and Amazon.com during their online festive sales violate foreign investment rules, a commerce ministry official told Reuters.
India introduced new rules in February aimed at protecting the 130 million people dependent on small-scale retail by deterring big online discounts. The rules forced e-commerce firms to tweak their business structures and drew criticism from the United States, straining trade ties between New Delhi and Washington.
While Amazon and Flipkart say they’ve complied with the federal rules, local trader groups say the two companies are violating them by burning money to offer discounts — of more than 50 percent in some cases — during the ongoing festive sales.
Reuters reviewed emails and internal training material from Flipkart showing the company is in some cases offering to reduce, or forfeit, its sales commission from sellers that offer discounts.
The commerce ministry official said the government was reviewing complaints and evidence filed by the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a group representing some 70 million brick-and-mortar retailers, alleging Amazon and Flipkart were violating the foreign investment rules.
The official declined to comment on possible action, but executives from Amazon and Flipkart were summoned to meet commerce ministry officials last week to discuss the matter.
Flipkart in a statement said it had a “good meeting” with government officials and it was “deeply committed to doing business the right way in India.”
Amazon said it had an “open & transparent discussion” with officials and has a high bar for compliance.
Seeking to attract shoppers around the key Hindu festival of Diwali, both retailers have placed full-page advertisements in top national daily the Times of India to showcase discount offerings stretching from Samsung and Apple phones to clothing and diapers.
“Customers are going online because of the unbelievable discounts. Because of this sales at offline businesses are down 30 percent to 40 percent this month,” CAIT’s secretary general Praveen Khandelwal said.
Two emails received by Flipkart sellers in September, just days ahead of the inaugural phase of the festive sales, showed it offering to partly fund discounts.
The company would “burn” 3 percent of the discount if a seller lowered a product price by 15 percent, or 9 percent if the seller discounted by 30 percent, said one of the emails.
In training material posted on Flipkart’s restricted website for its sellers, seen by Reuters, the company asks them to prepare for the festive season by saying “nothing is bigger than this” and explaining how they can benefit by discounting products for Flipkart’s premium customers.
“We want to ensure that you fetch as much profit from it as possible ... whatever the discount you are offering, half of that will be reimbursed to you by Flipkart,” a post said.
A Flipkart source said the incentives were compliant with Indian regulations and were aimed at promoting sellers’ earnings by effectively reducing the commission they pay.
All India Online Vendors Association, whose 3,500 members sell products on various online platforms including Flipkart, in a statement said fewer than 100 of its members benefitted from Flipkart’s partial discount funding, giving some sellers an unfair advantage.