Colombia mining exports recovered to $5.6 bln in first half, producers say

BOGOTA, Aug 19 (Reuters) - The value of Colombia’s mining exports recovered slightly in the first half of this year to $5.59 billion, despite anti-government protests and street blockades between April and June, an industry association said on Thursday.

The increase - from a export value of $5.18 billion during the first six months of last year, when the industry was battered by COVID-19 closures - is due principally to better gold prices which made up for continued troubles for coal.

The value of gold exports jumped 39.8% to $1.5 billion during the first half, while the value of coal exports fell 22.9% to $2.05 billion amid low global prices, the Colombian Mining Association (ACM) said in a virtual press conference.

Coal production was down slightly year-on-year in the first half, to 27.5 million tonnes, in part because of blockades which hit major producer Cerrejon.

“The great challenge in Colombia is to stabilize current coal production, to be able to operate continually, without blockades,” said ACM president Juan Camilo Narino.

Tens of thousands of marchers took to the streets in sometimes-deadly protests earlier this year in opposition to a government-backed tax reform and other policies.

Though demonstrator numbers gradually dwindled, road blockades around the country stymied exports and led to shortages of food and other goods.

In addition to protests and blockades, Narino said the mining and coal sectors are frequently affected by legal decisions and licensing delays for new projects.

The association is maintaining its coal output target of 60 million tonnes this year, he said, after production fell 40% last year to 49.5 million tonnes.

The ACM predicts a 15% recovery in the sector in 2021 as new gold projects come online.

Glencore will become the sole owner of Cerrejon next year after buying out partners BHP and Anglo American.

The Cerrejon mine has had repeated disagreements with nearby Wayuu indigenous communities and its largest union, which held a three-month strike last year. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Aurora Ellis)