One thing is certain –there is a long way to go and, although the country has a wealth of history in the subject, Argentina continues working to become a mining country. This year, Latin America as a whole will continue to represent a major attraction for the disembarking of foreign investors. Social license, regulatory uncertainty, and environmental conflicts are obstacles in the way, but the proven quality of the ore deposits is the region’s main appeal.

Clear indications are the figures arising from the mining activity in Argentina over the last years, particularly in 2010. According to a study carried out by the consultancy firm Investigaciones Económicas Sectoriales, IES, (Sectorial Economy Investigations), the mining sector in Argentina represented 0.3% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increasing to 4.5 % in 15 years. This percentage is expected to rise to 6% in the following years, once megaprojects in the pipeline start operating. In 2010 alone, mining exports grew 43.4% compared to 2009.

According to this study, the 2010 gross production value of the mining sector rose 11.4% compared to 2009, principally “due to the increased production of mines in operation”. As regards mining exports, the study points out that 2010 exports positioned 43.4% above the 2009 figures totaling US 4,521.3 M.

Another interesting aspect to take into account is that mining exploration set a new record in the country in 2010 registering a 340% growth compared to 2003, when this activity surged, and it brought investments exceeding US 100 M. Moreover, the sector waits for the construction of new projects with multibillion dollar investments.

But there is more. According to information provided by the National Mining Secretariat, exploration programs, which are measured in drilling meters, exceeded 730,000 attracting investments superior to US 100 M, according to current market values and beating a new historical record in 2010. These statistics also show an increase of 21% compared to the last exploration record registered in 2008, with 603 drilling meters, and it encourages the discovery of new deposits, mainly in provinces as Santa Cruz, Chubut, Salta, San Juan, and La Rioja, among others.

The forecasted projections, in terms of drilling, which exceed 3 thousand meters, safe keeps the growth of the sector, with at least 15 new world class projects involving investments superior to US 32 B and the creation of 115,000 new jobs in the country are expected in the following years.

In terms of companies working in the country, according to the latest report by Rojas & Asociados, Mining Consultants, there are over 160 active companies, either evaluating, exploring, developing or producing, with a marked predominance on exploration, with over 70% of the total amount. Gold remains as the main target, followed by silver, copper, industrial minerals and others.  Top countries of origin of the companies represented are Canada, Argentina, Australia and the US, among 21 countries

Furthermore, according to the IES study, gold registered the greatest mineral export rates. Exports in the Argentinean mining sector grew 43.4% in 2010 registering US 4.521 M in sales. Mineral exports increased 43.4% in value and 2.3% in quantities, including gold and silver, what amounts to 54.9% of the country’s total exports in 2010, according to the study. Gold registered the greatest mineral export with a year-on-year growth of 94% reaching US 2,010 M last year, followed by unrefined aluminum with a growth of 7,9% reaching US 356.3 M, and silver with a 98% increase reaching US 244.2 M.

Lithium must not be left aside –out of the US 150 B regional mining investment until 2015, 5 B are destined to Bolivia, even though this country has 70% of the world lithium and some of the world’s ten largest ore deposits. Chile continues to be a high stakes player and aims to make the applicable legal framework more flexible. With respect to Argentina, it will continue its advance with a select but dynamic group of junior companies actively exploring and at least one under production. It is a new era on development of lithium in Argentina.

Argentina faces a special opportunity to demonstrate that it can compete seriously. The country attempts to join the major leagues and bets for an activity that will surely bring economic and social benefits. The world’s major companies stop looking at the country reluctantly and become interested in the quality of its ore deposits. The irrefutable proof is that during 2009 and 2010, years of a sharp recession in the world’s economy, Argentinean mining continued to be a dynamic sector, faced the crisis by maintaining jobs and, despite a decline in exploration, mining companies stayed in the country and experienced a total recovery in less than a year. There were investments for US 750 M; 8,000 new jobs were created, and work was generated for over 750 small and medium-sized companies.