Chile copper production saw 13.5% rise in April after Escondida strike

SANTIAGO – Chile produced 429,241 mt of copper in April, down 1.8% from a year earlier but up 13.5% on the month as output began to recover from a prolonged strike at the giant Escondida copper mine that halted production for most of February and March, government data shows.

Chile’s statistics agency INE attributed the year-on-year fall in output in April to the fact that Escondida was still ramping after the strike as well as unscheduled maintenance shutdowns and low ore grades at other mines.

Production during the first four months of the year totaled 1.637 million mt, down 11.3% from the same period last year, the figures showed.

Chile is the world’s largest producer of copper, accounting for just under 30% of global mine output last year.

Workers at the BHP Billiton-controlled Escondida operation agreed to return to work on March 24 without an agreement meaning that they will have to resume negotiations on a new contract in the coming months.

The open pit operation in northern Chile is the world’s largest copper mine by production, with output of just over 1 million mt of metal in concentrate and cathode last year.

In April, the Chilean Copper Commission cut its estimate for Chilean copper output this year to just under 5.6 million mt, down from 5.8 million mt forecast in January, to reflect the impact of the strike.

Daniel Malchuk, head of Minerals Americas at BHP Billiton, said Friday the Escondida mine is now operating at capacity levels for the first time since the end of the 44-day strike.

Rio Tinto, which owns 30% of the mine, had previously said it did not expect the mine to return to capacity levels of production until July.

Production of molybdenum, a key by-product at many of Chile’s largest copper mines, rose 50.4% on the month in April to 6,170 mt.

Production during the first four months of the year rose 7.5% from last year to 20,558 mt.

But production of precious metals has been falling.

Gold production slipped 7.6% in April to 2,998 kg, bringing production so far this year to 11,288 kg, down 18.7% from a year ago.

Silver production slipped 20.9% in April to 103,150 kg. Production during the first four months of the year totaled 386,551 kg, down 24.7%.