The chair of First Quantum says his company intends to meet with Panamanian officials to discuss reopening a controversial mine in the country. 

First Quantum’s Cobre Panama copper mine has been closed since November when Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo ordered its closure after a ruling from the country’s Supreme Court ended its contract.

Now, with an election coming in early May and Cortizo not among the candidates, First Quantum hopes to discuss reopening the project with the government’s new leader.  

“First and foremost, whatever government is elected, we'll work with them,” Robert Harding, chair of First Quantum Minerals, told BNN Bloomberg in a television interview on Monday. “We're there for the long term. We'd like to see this mine reopen, obviously. I think the world would like to see this mine reopen.”

“Copper is an important resource for the world.”

Harding said his company is prepared to seek a US$20-billion trade arbitration to maintain the contracts it has with the Panamanian government but would prefer to work constructively with the new government to find a solution. 

“Obviously, it's an important element from an employment perspective,” he said. “I think somewhere between 30,000-40,000 jobs relied on that mine. (It) represents about five per cent of their GDP (gross domestic product), so it's an important asset for the country and an important one for First Quantum.”

Harding admitted his company did not do enough to educate the Panamanian people about the project and is working to fix that by allowing locals to visit the project and see it for themselves.

“We've done, I think, a very good job with the local communities where they're very supportive of the mine and depend on it for a lot of their economic activity, we probably didn't do as good a job with a broader Panamanian population, and that's what our focus is,” he said.

“So transparency, bring people to the mine site, let them see it.”

With files from Bloomberg News