(Adds context for production increase, quotes from mining and Cochilco officials, 2019 production and price forecast)
By Fabian Cambero
SANTIAGO, April 20 (Reuters) - Chilean copper commission Cochilco forecast on Friday that Chile would produce 5.76 million tonnes of the red metal in 2018, up 4.3 percent from 2017, while estimating copper prices at $3.06 per pound this year.
The projections follow a difficult year for the world’s top copper producer in 2017, after workers at BHP’s Escondida copper mine, the world’s largest, walked off the job for a month and a half, putting a dent in Chile’s economy and sending shockwaves through the market.
“We receive these projections with optimism...though we must be cautious about the risks that continue to exist in the market,” said Pablo Terrazas, Chile’s undersecretary of mining.
“There are numerous collective bargaining negotiations taking place and so we believe we should moderate our expectations,” Terrazas added.
Cochilco said numerous pending labor negotiations at mines in Chile and Peru this year continue to unnerve the market and raise the specter of supply shortages, but added it was hopeful these would be resolved without issue.
The agency said Chile’s copper output would jump to 5.94 million tonnes in 2019, boosted by increased produced at mines such as Antofagasta’s Antocuya, KGHM’s Sierra Gorda and Lumina Copper’s Caserones.
Cochilco said it expects copper prices to rise to $3.11 per pound next year. (Reporting by Fabian Cambero, writing by Dave Sherwood Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)