(Bloomberg) — Lithium Americas Corp.’s decision to split the company came down to one thorny issue: US-China relations.
The mining company announced a plan in November to separate its Argentine and North American units into two separate entities. If approved by shareholders, the split would effectively distance it from one of its top shareholders, Ganfeng Lithium Group Co., a Chinese producer of the white, slivery metal. Ganfeng partnered with Lithium Americas in 2017 to help advance the project in Argentina.
Ganfeng is a “smart, dedicated” partner, said Lithium Americas’ John Kanellitsas, executive vice chair. But Kanellitsas said Lithium Americas needed to cut ties with Ganfeng to build the Thacker Pass mine in Nevada, a project that has drawn a $650 million investment from General Motors Co. as the US pushes to build a domestic supply chain for electric vehicles.
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Lithium Americas has since applied for funding from the US Department of Energy, which has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars toward battery-metals projects.
“What makes it problematic, optics wise — and optics matter — is when the beneficial owners of those Department of Energy funds are Chinese shareholders,” Kanellitsas told an audience of investors and industry members at Canaccord Genuity’s annual metals and mining conference in Palm Desert, California.
“You can only imagine a press release saying here, ‘Lithium Americas and Ganfeng announce a new joint venture’ — it just would not fly at all, especially given what we’re trying to accomplish here in North America.”
The US and its allies have cracked down on Chinese investment in mining as they push to compete with China for access to critical minerals. Lithium Americas’ separation, which is expected to close this year, was announced one day after the Canadian government ordered three Chine the se companies to divest their stakes in the country’s lithium miners.