SANTIAGO, April 3 (Reuters) - Chile's Caserones copper mine, which has suffered a series of technical problems in its ramp-up stage that have continually pushed back its start completion date, should be fully functioning by mid-year, a senior mine executive said Monday.
The mine is now running at more than 90 percent capacity, Kazutaka Shiba, the chief executive of Mitsui Mineral Resources Latin America, told Reuters in an interview ahead of the CRU World Copper Conference taking place in Santiago this week.
Output at the project - which is 77 percent-owned by a joint venture between Japan's JX Holdings and Mitsui - has been behind schedule since it started producing in May 2014 in the arid mountains of northern Chile, and its issues highlight the challenges facing miners in the country now that more accessible deposits have largely been tapped out.
But Kazutaka said Mitsui was committed to the long-term and further growth in the world's top copper producer. Mitsui's investments in Chile's copper industry date back to the 1990s and it now has minority interests in a number of the country's leading deposits.
"We are not looking at operating and probably we don't have the capability of operating a mine, but we are good at making strategy and coordinating projects," he said.
He said Mitsui would not turn away from potential new investments, but was more focused on growing its existing "lower risk" investments, which as well as Caserones, include Collahuasi, Los Bronces, and smaller El Soldado.
"We would be interested in increasing our stake (or) expanding our operations," he said.
El Soldado, which is controlled by Anglo American, is currently suspended after a regulatory decision. But the company is appealing and a decision is expected in coming days, Kazutaka said, and should be positive.
"I am expecting that it will be resolved and we will return to operations," he said.
Collahuasi, operated by Anglo and Glencore, faces labor talks this year, in the shadow of an historic strike at Escondida, the world's biggest copper mine.
Mitsui would not get directly involved in those talks, he said. But the union and company had good relations and it did not foresee the kind of problems seen at Escondida.
"I will not deny that there will be some influence from Escondida, but we believe that Collahuasi will come up with an amicable agreement with the union. I'm not that worried," he said. (Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by David Gregorio)