Panama Congress Backtracks on Plan to Void Copper Mine Contract

(Bloomberg) -- Panama’s congress backtracked on a plan to repeal a multi-billion dollar copper mining contract as some lawmakers concluded it would be preferable for the supreme court to take this step.

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Congress on Thursday eliminated an article in a mining bill that would have voided a contract with Canadian miner First Quantum Minerals Ltd. Lawmakers then passed the revised bill, which declares a moratorium on new permits for metal mining.

The bill would need one more round of voting and the president’s signature to become law.

Opposition lawmaker Juan Diego Vasquez said during the debate that decision the repeal the First Quantum contract should be made by the judicial branch and not by congress.

Attorney Martita Cornejo, who filed a suit against the deal with the supreme court, said a ruling from judges that the deal breached the constitution will give Panama a stronger defense in eventual international arbitration.

Read more: Activist Lawyer Says Panama Must Plan for Arbitration Over Mine

Environmentalists, labor unions and others have held mass protests since congress on Oct. 20 passed a new contract with First Quantum, giving it the right to produce copper at its site for 20 years, with the option to extend that for a further 20 years. The mine is the company’s flagship asset, and produces about 1.5% of global copper output.

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