| BOGOTA, April 24
BOGOTA, April 24 Colombia's government will seek
congressional approval to harmonize national and local mining
laws, the mines and energy minister said on Monday, as legal
wrangling over environmental regulations and community
opposition threaten investment.
Voters in central Tolima province last month backed a
proposal to ban mining projects in their municipality, raising
questions about the future of an AngloGold Ashanti Ltd
gold exploration in the area. Canadian company Eco Oro Minerals
Corp, meanwhile, is waging a legal battle against a
court ruling that bars exploration in half its
The Tolima vote was made possible by a Constitutional Court
decision that overturned the national government's sole
authority to approve mining projects, allowing mayors and
provincial governors to challenge exploration permits, to the
delight of environmental groups and some politicians.
The move caused uncertainty among investors in Colombia, the
world's fifth-largest producer of coal with rich reserves of
gold, ferronickel, silver, copper and emeralds. The government
hopes the law would ease concerns by clarifying how land use
disagreements between local and national authorities would be
resolved, Mines and Energy minister German Arce said in an
"It's a very in-depth discussion that we're having - how to
harmonize the different legal mandates, because mayors have the
power to organize land but the national government administers
the subsoil," Arce told Reuters.
"We have a project that we are discussing with Congress -
it's not formally presented yet - where we will define how to
handle it," he said.
"Giving a clear rule to investors will take away part of
the uncertainty that's been created by the activism of a few
tribunals and courts and by the referendums," Arce added.
AngloGold and Eco Oro did not immediately respond to
requests for comment.
Oil and mining income that once accounted for nearly 10
percent of Colombia's gross domestic product suffered amid the
global fall in crude prices, but recent improvements have made
production viable again.
"We can produce at this price level. One would hope that now
we've touched bottom we can start to see some recovery in the
second half of this year and in 2018," Arce said.
The oil production target for 2017 is 865,000 barrels per
The government has set a coal production target of 92
million tonnes and a gold output goal of 60 tonnes for this
year, Arce said.
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing
by Helen Murphy and Andrew Hay)