1. What is the nature and importance of the mining industry in your country?
The quality and quantity of Ecuadorian mineral resources is very similar to that of its neighbours, such as Chile and Peru, who have managed to develop their mining potential. However, most of Ecuadorian territory is still unexplored. In fact, according to the Financial Times, Ecuador has some of the most attractive gold, silver and copper deposits in Latin America, nevertheless, production has been almost non-existent. There are many reasons for the delay in developing this industry, but if we have to choose the main reason, we would point to erred public policy regarding the mining industry and the absence of legal security, owing to legislation largely inspired by the oil industry. In terms of the mining industry’s importance in Ecuador, considering the tendency for decreasing oil prices and given the fact that traditionally Ecuador is an oil dependent country, we do not see any industry other than mining capable of attracting investments to develop the country.
2. What are the target minerals?
The principal minerals targeted in Ecuador are gold, silver, copper, lithium, rare earth, potash, iron, uranium and coal. Ecuador has a much wider geological potential but, to an extent, the minerals targeted depend on global trends and the interest of individual companies.
3. Which regions are most active?
The most important gold and copper deposits discovered to date are located in the south-east of Ecuador, principally in Zamora Chinchipe, Morona Santiago, Azuay and El Oro provinces. However, it is also important to consider Imbabura province in the north of Ecuador since there is also considerable mining potential in this area. There are nonmetallic mineral deposits in the south of the country and in particular in the province of Azuay.
Legal and regulatory structure
4. Is the legal system civil or common law-based?
The Ecuadorian legal system is civil law-based.
5. How is the mining industry regulated?
According to the Constitution, the state owns all minerals and nonrenewable natural resources within the national territory. These minerals and resources are considered as strategic sectors, which are managed, regulated, controlled and governed by the state. The state can, on an exceptional basis, delegate the development of extractive sectors to individuals or entities by granting mining concessions for a term of 25 years. Thus, the concessionaire will have the exclusive right to explore, exploit, process and sell any metallic minerals within the concession. When a project is considered in the range of large-scale mining, prior to the commencement of the exploitation phase, the concessionaire must first sign an exploitation contract with the Ecuadorian state. This contract is not needed when a project is in the range of artisanal, small or medium-scale mining.
The Mining Act defines artisanal mining as that which is carried out for the subsistence of family units through the use of manual equipment or portable devices.
The daily production ranges for artisanal mining are:
- for metallic minerals: up to 10 tonnes in underground mining and up to 120 cubic metres in alluvial mining;
- for non-metallic minerals: up to 50 tonnes; and
- for construction materials: up to 100 cubic metres in alluvial deposits and 50 tonnes for hard rock open-pit mining.
The daily production ranges for small-scale mining are:
- for metallic minerals: up to 300 tonnes in underground mining, up to 1,000 tonnes in open-pit mining and up to 1,500 cubic metres in alluvial mining;
- for non-metallic minerals: up to 1,000 tonnes; and
- for construction materials: up to 800 cubic metres for alluvial terrace mining and up to 500 tonnes for open-pit mining.
The daily production ranges for medium-scale mining are as follows:
- for metallic minerals: 301–1,000 tonnes in underground mining, 1,001–2,000 tonnes in open-pit mining and 1,501–3,000 cubic meters in alluvial mining;
- for non-metallic minerals: 1,001–3,000 tonnes; and
- for construction materials: 801–2,000 cubic metres for alluvial terrace mining and 501–1,000 tonnes for hard rock open-pit mining (quarries).
Any range that exceeds those established for medium-scale mining is considered as large-scale mining.
By way of amendments to the Mining Law introduced on 16 July 2013, the process for obtaining environmental permits to carry on mining activities was simplified (see question 35).
6. What are the principal laws that regulate the mining industry? What are the principal regulatory bodies that administer those laws? Were there any major amendments in the past year?
Overall, there are several legal provisions regarding the mining industry within the Constitution. Added to that, there is the Mining Act that was enacted on 29 January 2009, further modified by the amendment passed on 16 July 2013 as well as the General Mining Regulations and the Small-Scale and Artisanal Mining Regulations that were promulgated on 4 November 2009. There is also the Mining Environmental Regulations for Mining Activities promulgated on 27 March 2014.
The principal regulatory body that regulates and controls the industry is the Mining Ministry, created in February 2015, which replaced the former Ministry of Non-Renewable Natural Resources (MNRNR). The other relevant bodies are the Ministry of the Environment, the Mining Regulation and Control Agency (ARCOM) and the National Geological Mining Investigation Institute (INIGEMM). In addition, with the Mining Act, the national mining company (ENAMI-EP) was created, which is responsible for developing state mining projects by itself or in association with private or public companies, or both.
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Reproduced with permission from Law Business Research Ltd. Getting the Deal Through: Mining 2017, (published in June 2017; contributing editors: Michael Bourassa and John Turner, Fasken Martineau) For further information please visit https://gettingthedealthrough.com/area/22/mining-2017