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Changing regulatory patterns in time of crisis? The case of Sernageomin and new mining sectors in Chile.

Open Panel

Abstract

The organization of Chile’s mining industry into a policy sector has relied on a transversal consensus among the political class and relevant economic actors on the main development objectives, as well as on a proactive role of the State. This model guaranteed the ensuing relevance of public firms in the face of increasing competition by multinationals, although in recent years, critics arose against the existing institutional setting in regards to sluggish investment thresholds and the erosion of Chile''s strong position in international markets. Moreover, the lack of responsiveness of regulatory agencies –SERNAGEOMIN- in regards to the monitoring of existing mining ventures and development of new production lines of strategic minerals such as lithium has been pointed out as one shortcoming of Chile’s Development Strategy for 2018. The arrival of a new coalition to power after twenty years of successful mandates of a center-left coalition favored the emergence of a critical appraisal of existing regulatory settings and reinforced the criticism brought by sectorial actors to the SERNAGEOMIN. This regulatory agency faced the threat of losing part of its competencies to the Mining Ministry where short term development imperatives would jettison technical considerations pertaining to sustainability and added value. Yet in the face of criticism brought by governmental officials and part of civil society, this agency took a pro-active stance laying down a new strategy for the development of lithium sector and ignited a wide debate including experts and political forces not traditionally associated to previous decisions. This paper will explore the recourse to blame avoidance (Hood 2002) in the voicing of policy strategies in this particular case as well as the diffusion regulatory agencies to new and contentious areas of intervention following this pattern (Jordana, Levi-Faur,Fernandez, 2007).