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Allkem, set for merger, talks up Argentina's 'enormous' lithium riches

By Lucila Sigal

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Australian-based lithium miner Allkem Ltd, set for a $10.6 billion merger with U.S.-based Livent Corp, sees "enormous" opportunity in Argentina, a top executive said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a mining event in Buenos Aires, Chief Sustainability and External Affairs Officer Karen Vizental said Argentina's strong pipeline of lithium projects could lure billion of dollars in investment by the end of the decade, while the country's lithium exports could rise to $10 billion.

"The size of the opportunity, if we look forward to 2030, is enormous," Vizental said.

"We have a range of projects that are in different stages, of feasibility or exploration. If these projects end up being completed, we are talking about investment over $7 billion."

Argentina, the No. 4 lithium producer globally, sits within the so-called "lithium triangle" and has been luring investment. Allkem and Livent run the two projects currently in production, but a pipeline of others is set to come online.

The two firms announced a planned merger this month, a deal which would create the world's third-largest producer of the metal used to make electric vehicle batteries needed by carmakers from Tesla Inc to BMW.

Vizental said the merger, which she hoped would be completed by the end of November, would bring benefits of "scale", more exchange of technology and innovation, and speed up investment.

"It is extremely positive for the projects we have here in Argentina," she said.

Argentina has benefited, analysts say, from a decentralized and market-led model, even as others in the region including Bolivia, Mexico and recently Chile, have touted more state-led development and even the idea of an OPEC-style lithium cartel.

"I don't agree with the idea of an OPEC for lithium," Gerardo Morales, the governor of northern mining province Jujuy, said at the Arminera mining conference. Other governors from key lithium regions Catamarca and Salta said the same.

Argentina, Bolivia and Chile together sit atop of half the world's lithium riches, under salt flats in the high Andean plains. Chile, the world's No. 2 producer, unveiled plans for a state-led public-private lithium strategy last month.

"They are going backwards," Morales said of Chile. "And Bolivia too. That means more investment for us."

(Reporting by Lucila Sigal; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Marguerita Choy)