Article updated on 6 April 2021 by Brett Smith
Image Credit: boreala/Shutterstock.com
The Argentine Republic, or Argentina, is a sparsely populated country on the continent of South America, with an estimated population of 45.9 million. It is the 8th largest country in the world, with an area of 2.8 million sq km which covers most of the southern half of South America. Due to its length of almost 4000 km, the country's climate ranges from the rainforest-covered tropics of the north to the sub-Antarctic conditions in the south.
Argentina is a country of abundant natural resources, is a member of the G-15 and G-20 major economies, and has one of the strongest economies in Latin America.
This article will give an overview of the major mineral resources present in Argentina, the mining industry's evolution, and what the future may hold for mining in Argentina.
Resources in Argentina
A century ago, Argentina was one of the world's richest countries due to its natural resources. However, political and economic turmoil have dogged the nation over the last 100 years, making it difficult for the country to retain its place as an economic superpower.
The important mineral resources present in the country include lead, zinc, tin, copper, iron ore, manganese, petroleum, uranium, and lithium. In 2016, the mining sector contributed $17.8 billion to Argentina’s GDP, representing 3.2%.
As a recognized ‘middle power’ with a ‘very high’ human development index rating, Argentina has a stable government and has secure mining policies and legislation in place. In a forward-thinking move towards sustainability, a law was passed in 2010 forbidding mining in and around the large glaciers in the south of the country.
In 2016, the newly elected government removed a 5% tax on all mineral exports that had been in place since 2007. The government also adopted a decree that removed export duties on semifinished and raw gold and silver.
The majority of mining in Argentina is open-pit mining, and only two underground mines are currently open partly due to the lack of contractible drilling companies in Argentina.
In addition to traditional mining products, Argentina produces more biofuel than any other country. For 2018, the country reportedly produced more than 70,000 barrels per day in biofuels, equalling 2.7% of global production.
COVID-19 and its Affects on Argentina Mining
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns severely affected the country’s biofuel sector, with repercussions still ongoing.
Before the pandemic, Argentina had 19 bioethanol plants and 33 biodiesel plants in operation, capable of producing 1.4 billion liters per year and 700 billion liters per year respectively.
Argentina is the world’s third-largest producer of lithium, accounting for 15% of global production. Lithium is found in solutions or brines that are extracted via aquifers. It is estimated that Argentina contains more than 80% of the world’s lithium brine reserves just in the Puna Plateau in the northwest.
Lithium is essential in the battery and car manufacturing industries, and due to this, there has been a significant increase in lithium exploration in the country. Argentina also exports a massive amount of the lithium it mines, with the United States and Japan being two major importers of the mineral.
One of the four most important mining projects in Argentina is lithium, the Salar del Hombre Muerto-Fenix Project. This is owned by Minera del Altiplano SA (FMC Lithium Co.).
These brines are also rich in boron and potassium. Boron is also present in large quantities from lithium brine and other sources. In 2016, Argentina was ranked fifth in the world for boron production, accounting for 5% of global production.
Argentina is also approximately the world’s fourth-highest producer of strontium derived from celestite.
Cadmium is extracted in economically viable amounts and can be used in the manufacturing sector.
Important metals found in Argentina are copper, gold, silver, and zinc. The region of Argentina adjacent to the Andes is possibly one of the world's most metal-rich areas.
In 2016, Argentina’s gold production was nearly 57,000 kilograms, 47% of which was produced in the Santa Cruz province. That same year, $64 million was spent on gold exploration or approximately 46% of the country’s spend on nonferrous metals. Spending on gold exploration had been in a steady decline before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bajo de la Alumbrera mine, owned by Minera Alumbrera S.A., produces copper and gold. As of 2016, it was the only functioning commercial copper mine in Argentina. An Argentinian court suspended mining operations in 2017 due to a formal pollution complaint.
Despite being a significant part of Argentina’s mining sector, aluminum production in the country is done entirely by Aluar. The company, and therefore the entire aluminum sector, had to cut production due to COVID-19. Before the pandemic, about 70% of the company’s production was exported to the United States, Japan, Brazil, and Germany.
Though there is little coal mined in Argentina, natural gas and crude petroleum are essential resources.
Argentina's proven oil reserves are the 32nd highest globally, estimated to be around 2.5 billion barrels. In 2016, the country produced 187 million barrels of crude petroleum, a decrease of 3.8% from the year before.
Argentina is the 35th largest proven national reserve of natural gas, with around 430,000 million cu m. Uranium, which can be used as a fuel in nuclear energy, is also present in minable amounts. In a dispute with the United Kingdom, Argentina claims sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, or Islas Malvinas, a small group of islands off the coast of mainland Argentina, currently being explored for oil and gas reserves.
Argentina renewed its claims over the islands in 2012, with leaders saying the islands would be Argentina's property within two decades. In 2016, Argentina and the UK decided to cooperate and positively engage to improve the economic growth and development of the Falkland Islands.
In 2020, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly said his country would use military force to ensure the security of British citizens living in overseas territories, including those living in the Falkland Islands.
Despite the wealth of resources, mining has not traditionally been big business in Argentina, and the country has been more focused on farming. Until the 1990s, most of the mining was geared toward the construction industry. However, in recent years this has shifted slightly. In 1992, the government opened the mining sector to private companies. This led to a rise in international trade, investment, and exploration.
The rich, fertile ground of the pampas plains has traditionally been the primary source of wealth for the people of Argentina. Image Credits: US Department Of State.
Since the 1970s, the mining exports of Argentina have increased substantially, from US$70 million to over US$4019 million in 2016. This has been achieved primarily by the four important mines mentioned previously in the article.
The leading nations that Argentina exports to are Brazil (21.1%), China (8.5%), Chile (6.6%), and the USA (5.1%).
There are many perceived benefits of mining in Argentina. The mining market in Argentina is transparent, easy to access, and foreign and domestic investors are encouraged. Due to the country's size, there are still large areas that have not been fully explored, and so junior exploration companies can benefit from this.
Disclaimer: The author of this article does not imply any investment recommendation and some content is speculative in nature. The Author is not affiliated in any way with any companies mentioned and all statistical information is publically available.
References and Further Reading
United States Geological Survey. (2021) 2016 Minerals Yearbook ARGENTINA [ADVANCE RELEASE]. [online] Available at: https://d9-wret.s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/assets/palladium/production/atoms/files/myb3-2016-ar.pdf. (Accessed: 5 April 2021)
Bradley, C. (2021) Falklands: Argentina claimed islands will be theirs by 2033 despite Boris Johnson's vow. Express, 16 March [online]. Available at: shttps://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1410699/falklands-news-argentina-islands-2033-boris-johnson-uk-spt (Accessed: 5 April 2021)
CIA. (2021) The World Factbook – Argentina. [online] Available at: https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/argentina/. (Accessed 5 April 2021)
NS Energy Staff Writer. (2019) Top five countries for biofuel production across the globe. NS Energy, 15 November [online]. Available at: https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/features/top-biofuel-production-countries/. (Accessed 5 April 2021)
United States Department of Agriculture. (2020) Argentina: Biofuels Annual. [online] Available at: https://www.fas.usda.gov/data/argentina-biofuels-annual-5. (Accessed 5 April 2021)
Reuters Staff. (2017) Argentina court orders suspension of Glencore's Alumbrera mine. Reuters, 11 July [online]. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-glencore-argentina-suspension/argentina-court-orders-suspension-of-glencores-alumbrera-mine-idUSKBN19W2RT. (Accessed 5 April 2021)
Deaux, J. (2020) Aluminium among first virus-related output reductions in Argentina. Bloomberg News, 30 March [online]. Available at: https://www.batimes.com.ar/news/economy/aluminum-output-cuts-in-argentina-among-first-related-to-virus.phtml. (Accessed 5 April 2021)