Canadian company lobbies Brazil for Amazon potash mine permit

Band Anthony Bodle

Brasília, March 31 (Reuters)Toronto-based Brazil Potash Corp presented Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro this week with plans to reduce his country’s dependence on Ukraine’s war-disrupted fertilizer imports by opening a potash mine in the Amazon.

The company’s owner, investment banker Stan Bharti, met Bolsonaro on Monday to discuss the $2.5 billion project that has been stalled since 2017 due to a suspended environmental permit pending consultations with the government. Mura indigenous people.

Bolsonaro told Bharti that his government was committed to “unlocking” fertilizer projects such as the potash mine that are strategic for Brazil, said former senator Cidinho Santos, who attended the meeting, in an Instagram post on Wednesday.

The decision to authorize the Autazes mine, 120 km southeast of the state capital, Manaus, is not entirely up to Bolsonaro. The project hinges on a ruling from federal judge Jaiza Fraxe, who is monitoring talks with the Mura people to ensure they have a say.

As potash prices tripled last year and war threatened supplies from Russia and Eastern Europe, pressure to open the potash mine grew from Brazil’s agricultural sector , which depends on imports for 85% of its fertilizers, needed to boost crop yields.

Brazil, the world’s largest producer of soybeans, depends on potash imports from China, Canada and Morocco, but especially from Russia and Belarus for almost half of the country’s supplies. These exports have been severely hampered by sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Potassio do Brasil, a subsidiary of Brazil Potash, 100% owned by Bharti’s Forbes & Manhattan bank, said the mine would take three years to be operational, with production of 2.44 million tonnes per year. once permits have been obtained.

“As soon as the environmental license is reinstated, we will apply to Amazon IPAAM’s environmental protection agency for an installation license and begin work,” chief executive Adriano Espeschit said in an emailed statement. . “We hope to produce at Autazes in early 2026.”

Espeschit said the company recognizes the Mura’s right to be consulted under the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, and that meetings began after a two-month delay. years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Judge Fraxe’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the meetings. Claudio Mura, head of a local indigenous council, declined to speak by phone about the progress of the talks.

Prosecutor Fernando Soave, who first asked for the permit to be suspended in 2016 because the Mura had not been consulted, said there was no agreement in a meeting with the tribe on Tuesday to decide on contentious points to include in the talks.

“Pre-consultation meetings have not started yet,” Soave told Reuters.

His office said the company’s exploratory drilling of potash deposits began in the area in 2009 without consulting the Mura people, who claim the area as ancestral land, although their claim has not been recognized by the government. Brazilian.

Brazil Potash said the planned mine entrance would not be on indigenous land, which Mura disputes, and that the environmental impact of mining potash deposits 800 meters underground will be negligible.

The prosecutor’s office warned of the significant social and cultural impact of the project on the Mura people. Consultations are expected to take time as they involve 44 Mura villages.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle Editing by Marguerita Choy and Bill Berkrot)

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