Zinc slump threatens Bolivian mining sector

A worldwide slump in zinc prices threatens Bolivia’ss second-largest export as companies reduce output and close mines, officials said. “We’re worried about zinc not only because of falling prices but because it’s the principal mineral that we mine in Bolivia,” Freddy Beltran, director of Bolivia’s Mining and Metallurgy Ministry, said told Bloomberg. Zinc “has traditionally been our top mining export,” he said.

Zinc, used as an anticorrosive by auto manufacturers, is Bolivia’s largest export after natural gas. Miners including Toronto-based Apogee Minerals Ltd. are suspending production in Bolivia after prices for zinc fell by more than half this year. The country is preparing to combat a mining “crisis,” Beltran said.

“For now only zinc has reached a level at which mining operations may close,” Beltran said. “In other sectors, miners are working for small profits, but profits that are large enough to allow them to continue.” Bolivia exported $1.3 billion in minerals in the first 10 months of the year, according to the Andean nation’s National Statistics Institute. The value of exports from Potosi, the center of Bolivia’s zinc industry, fell 47% through October to $1.17 billion, prmpting 11 small mining operations there to close. The country’s miners also extract copper, iron ore and silver. Apex Silver Mines Ltd., a silver producer and exploration company, announced last month it plans to sell its shares in the San Cristobal silver mine after posting a third-quarter net loss of $332 million because of declining metals prices. (Bloomberg, Dec. 5)

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