* Infrastructure spending likely positive for commodities
* Mackenzie says free trade helps lower costs
* Sees possible reopening of coal debate
LONDON, Feb 21 U.S. President Donald Trump's
protectionist stance is likely to erode economic growth over the
longer term and therefore demand for raw materials, the chief
executive of the world's biggest miner, BHP Billiton,
said on Tuesday.
Mining stocks rallied on expectations Trump's policies would
lead to increased infrastructure spending in the United States
and, just before Trump took office, Mackenzie had a meeting with
the president-elect, which officials said was productive.
Andrew Mackenzie said it would be good news for the
resources sector if Trump could unlock "the challenge of
bringing more money into infrastructure".
But he said Trump's protectionist stance was likely to be
bad for growth and therefore ultimately for commodities demand.
"When you take the medium-term view, it's hard to fault the
value of free trade," Mackenzie told reporters, adding it
created, for instance, better sharing of ideas to cut costs for
the consumer, therefore stimulating demand.
"Without a greater commitment to that (free trade), you're
not going to get back to 4 percent GDP growth and that's the
kind of growth rate you need to continue to lift people out of
poverty and to fuel a decent demand for commodities going
Long term, almost everyone would be a loser from
protectionism, Mackenzie said, although the interim gains of
Trump's policies could include a reopening of the debate about
BHP, which reported a $3.20 billion net half-year net profit
and boosted its dividend payment on Tuesday after benefiting
from a rebound in commodity prices, is the world's biggest
producer of coking coal, used in steelmaking.
It has invested in carbon capture and storage technology to
prevent the release of carbon dioxide emissions from
coal-burning into the atmosphere.
"People have probably been too quick to condemn coal,"
He said nuclear power's failure to experience a renaissance
following the Fukushima disaster in Japan meant coal had a role
in providing cheap and convenient baseload power, although it
also needed to be clean.
"It's possible you'll get a re-set of that debate, which I
think has been unduly negative towards coal," he said.
"I'd like to think as a result of that, (there could be)
greater alignment around governments to mature carbon capture
and storage technology to the same point as we're maturing
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Susan Fenton)