First Quantum’s Panama mine not operating at commercial production levels

By Valentine Hilaire and Divya Rajagopal

(Reuters) -A major Panama copper mine run by Canada’s First Quantum Minerals is not operating at commercial levels, a spokesman said on Thursday, following blockades by protesters at a key port that have prevented the miner from receiving shipments of coal that power the site and other supplies.

Operations are set to resume once the port blockade is resolved, the spokesman added.

Cobre Panama produced 112,734 metric tons of copper in the third quarter of 2023, and contributed $930 million to the firm’s overall third-quarter revenue of $2.02 billion.

Protests have escalated since the government and First Quantum signed a new contract on Oct. 20 for the Cobre Panama concession, which contributes 1% to global copper production and 5% to Panama’s gross domestic product.

Protesters have argued the contract favors the miner too much and allege corrupt practices in its approval.

“In terms of production we are talking about a temporary halt because of the illegal blockade. As soon as the port reopens, we will be able to ramp production back up quickly,” the company said in a statement to Reuters when asked about the mine’s status earlier this week.

The company says an “illegal blockade” of small boats at the mine’s Punta Rincon port has been disrupting the mine’s activity.

Michael Camacho, a leader of the mine workers’ union, told Reuters that workers started to leave the mine earlier on Thursday due to the lack of supplies to work. “As a union, we are very worried,” he said.

Challenges against First Quantum’s contract have been filed to Panama’s top court, which is set to hear the legality of the contract awarded to the miner from Nov. 24.

(Reporting by Valentine Hilaire and Divya Rajagopal; Editing by Brendan O’Boyle and Sarah Morland)