Chile's SQM to start lithium talks with state miner Codelco in coming weeks, says CEO

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the brine pools of SQM lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat in the Atacama desert of northern Chile

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Chile's lithium miner SQM is set to start talks about lithium projects with state miner Codelco in the coming weeks, the firm's Chief Executive Officer Ricardo Ramos told analysts in a quarterly earnings call on Thursday.

Ramos said the exact dates would soon be shared with the market.

The Chilean government had in April announced plans for stronger state control of the metal, a key component for electric vehicle batteries, which would involve allowing private sector partnerships only if the government holds a majority stake in strategic projects.

SQM, the world's second-largest lithium producer, saw its lithium sales volumes slip 15% over the first three months of 2023, according to a presentation, but average prices surged 34% ahead of their level in the same quarter a year earlier.

SQM had reported prices of around $38,000 per metric tonne in the first quarter of 2022, though this rose to $59,000 per tonne by the last quarter. It did not specify quarterly prices in its latest report.

"We are positive about volumes for the second quarter and semester," Ramos said when asked about the company's outlook, citing a ramp up of activity in China.

"The second quarter is showing a more stable pattern," he said.

SQM's revenues landed at $2.26 billion for January to March, up almost 12% from a year earlier, though profits dipped 6%.

(Reporting by Valentine Hilaire and Fabian Andres Cambero; Editing by Sarah Morland)