Chilean lithium miner SQM objected to the terms of a deal drawn up between the country's anti-trust regulator and the Chinese miner Tianqi which hopes to buy almost a quarter of SQM, its lawyers told the country's anti-trust court on Thursday.
An attorney representing SQM told Chile’s anti-trust court, which must approve the settlement between the regulator and Tianqi, that the measures agreed upon were not sufficient to limit the Chinese miners access to SQM's commercially-sensitive information.
"There is not much hope that these efforts to mitigate the effects of the deal will achieve the desired result," said Maria Isabel Diaz Velasco, a lawyer for SQM.
Chile’s government asked regulators in March to scrutinize Tianqi's bid to buy 24% of SQM for $4.1-billion, a move which would give it a coveted stake in one of the world’s top producers of lithium, a key component in batteries that power everything from cell phones to electric vehicles.
In the complaint, Chile's government said the deal would distort the global lithium market.
Tianqi’s interest in SQM comes as Beijing aggressively promotes electric vehicles to combat air pollution and help China’s domestic carmakers leapfrog combustion engine brands.
The settlement agreed upon last Friday by Chilean anti-trust regulator (FNE) and Tianqi would see the transaction approved, but with restrictions. Tianqi, whose stake in the company would entitle it to appoint three members to SQM's board, would be barred from nominating its own executives or employees.
The Chinese miner would also be required to notify regulators of any future, lithium-related deal struck with either SQM or top-competitor Albemarle.
The FNE said it believed the deal would “sufficiently preserve free competition in the lithium industry” while Tianqi said it had agreed to the measures “in a clear sign of respect for Chile and its institutions.”
On Thursday, Tianqi's representative Claudio Lizana said controlling shareholder Ponce Lerou, the former son-in-law of ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet, was seeking to force the stake's current owner, Canadian fertilizer company Nutrien Ltd, to sell it piecemeal on the open market.
The court heard further objections to the settlement from a group representing lithium consumers, and representatives for Pampa Group, controlled by Lerou, SQM's former president.
"They've given Tianqi the gift of a deal that allows it to enter into ownership of a competitor," the lawyer for Ponce's said.