Lithium, advice from an Australian ambassador and the Venezuelan situation at LADU 2017

I attended the Latin America Down Under (LADU) conference last month, held in Perth (did you know it was my first time there? Find out!). Although still a small conference, it was a good opportunity to catch up with those interested in strengthening the relationship between Australia and Latin America. I consider myself a passionate fan of that objective and it is fabulous to see more colleagues aiming for the same, now.

Argentina’s Undersecretary of Mining, Mario Capello, Paola Rojas and JP Vargas from Pattersons

Lithium got the spotlight, I’d say. There was an excellent panel where Galaxy Resources’ CEO, Anthony Tse, Chris Gale, CEO of Latin Resources and JP Vargas from Pattersons Securities analysed future demand trends, price forecasts and some fundamentals of this fantastic metal. It was great to hear their perspectives.

Another panel included the Australian ambassadors from the region. They gave a quick overview of what is happening in each country. The highlights, for me, were:

  • Colombia is getting a new Embassy (until now was subordinated to Chile)
  • Brazil’s representative had to say, basically, that they don’t know what’s going to happen after the scandal surrounding President Temer
  • Noel Campbell, Ambassador to Argentina, Paraguay & Uruguay, provided three key take-aways, for anyone looking to potentially invest in Argentina: 1. There has been a change in management. 2. the country is open for business and 3. the time is now. The Australian government is very cautious to say something so definite; it was great to hear it.

I’ve attended these events several times since it started in 2011. I commend the organisers for the great care they take in every part of the event, for their professionalism and human quality – what a great group of individuals. I do hope that more executives and institutional investors see the value of this unique opportunity, and participate in higher numbers, as Australia needs to secure a good spot in Latin America, I believe.

It’s not easy to put together an international event like this one and there are many challenges – so I can view them from more than one standpoint. As I’ve mentioned, during part of my career I was very involved with these type of conferences. Years ago, while I was still living in Argentina and working at Rojas & Asociados, we organised a conference called Latin Exploration. It was a yearly event, held from 2009 to 2011, and it was held in Buenos Aires, which was a fantastic location, before Argentina became too risky for investors. The last year was the best, we got close to 300 people discussing mining exploration in the region; we even came up with an innovative meeting space for companies and investors that generated great connections. As you may know, my family still runs the Argentina Mining Convention, their flagship event that started in 1996; the next one is in 2018.

Having said the above, my report would not be complete without mentioning the issue with the government of Venezuela promoting its country in this event. There was a presentation by the mining representative and the country had a huge booth (out of maybe 15).

The exhibition area with Venezuela’s booth in the middle

First of all, the insane investment proposition, come and invest in our country and you’ll be able to own 45% -yes, a minority stake- of any strategic mineral projects -which were obviously gold, copper, lithium and a few others, so the most valuable- that you can find. Yeah, that was the pitch! Are you kidding me? It was insane for this person to say with a blank face that this is what they were looking for; someone from the audience even asked if they were willing to reconsider the percentages, given the risk an investor would have to undertake if entering Venezuela; he remained calmly in his position saying no. What a bizarre moment (note: from a design point of view, their participation was flawless and must have costed a lot, I’ll give them that). And secondly, and a few Venezuelans came to protest due to the serious situation in their country that is costing lives. It was very confronting for all of us who come from Latin America and understand the reality of this dictatorship to see these guys there; it’s appalling, so we were not happy with that. I honestly believe it was a ridiculous thing to have them represented. But I know it was a delicate diplomatic balance that the organisers and the Australian government had to consider with care – but it still was very sad. I really hope there’s a solution in the very near future for all Venezuelans.


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