Monday, February 2, 2009

Bolivia Poised for Lithium Boom (But the Socialism...)

South America is stuffed with Lithium; Bolivia is to be believed by some as possessing the world's largest reserves. As automakers around the world prepare to launch electric and plug-in hybrid cars (note: the current generation Toyota Prius, not a plug-in hybrid, uses a nickel-metal hydride battery), Bolivia is poised to take advantage of the boom - not only by producing and supplying lithium, but making lithium batteries for cars and consumer products.

Excerpts include:

On a remote Andean plain here, a short drive on unpaved roads from the world's largest salt flat, 120 government workers are constructing a facility to help power the fuel-efficient electric cars of the future.

The plant, in a sparsely populated region, is supposed to begin producing basic compounds of lithium, which is used to make batteries for cell phones, power tools, computers and other electronic devices, by year's end.

"Bolivia will become a big producer in six years of batteries," Luis Alberto Echazu, the minister of mining and metallurgy, said in an interview. He ticked off three companies that he said have expressed interest in investing in the government's lithium venture: Sumitomo, Mitsubishi and Bollore, a French company.

Oh, but that socialism...

The country's socialist president, Evo Morales, and its powerful union leaders are all deeply suspicious of foreigners, and their politics could stymie yet another opportunity for Bolivia to improve the lives of its citizens.

He (President Morales) said that the government should own and operate any lithium mining operations, and that foreign companies can invest their cash but must play only secondary roles.

In his biggest move as president, he also raised taxes on the foreign companies that hold the rights to Bolivia's natural gas reserves, the second largest in Latin America, and also gave the government the right to decide when and where the gas is sold.

Morales declared that the gas belonged to Bolivians, not "transnationals," as foreign companies are known here. Bolivians lionized Morales for sticking it to the foreigners.

The result? Foreign gas companies have stopped investing in Bolivia, and Bolivia has been unable to supply the gas it promised in contracts with Brazil and Argentina.

Like much of South America, Bolivia's economy and natural resources have been unfairly exploited by wealthier nations, and has suffered tyrannical wrath under extremist dictatorial leadership (some friendly to Western interests). Still, swinging from one mood extremity to another, in hastened attempt to solve deplorable state, never works and often excacerbates the situation. Just look at Venezuela. A poor country with a long history of being exploited, now in the grasp of a myopic dictator whose socialist drive has driven up inflation, hindered the oil sector, and hurt the economy. He kicked out Western oil companies and now he wants them back.

South America should heed the Greek maxim: "Moderation is the answer to everything; any extremity is bad."

- Brewskie

No comments:

Post a Comment