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Panama to withdraw proposed contract for Canadian miner First Quantum's unit

FILE PHOTO: View of the Cobre Panama mine, of Canadian First Quantum Minerals, in Donoso, Panama, December 6, 2022. REUTERS/Aris Martínez

By Elida Moreno and Valentine Hilaire

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) -Panama's government authorized on Tuesday the withdrawal of a proposed contract to regulate operations of Canadian miner First Quantum's local unit, Minera Panama, from Congress to make changes requested by lawmakers.

President Laurentino Cortizo's administration and the Canadian miner had agreed on the text of the contract to operate the key Cobre Panama copper mine in March, but it was awaiting the assembly's approval.

"We hope to work together with the company Minera Panama to agree on the phrasing needed to resolve the points indicated by the congress' trade committee," the presidency said in a post on social media X.

Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered near Panama's governmental offices in recent weeks to protest the contract, demanding more environmental protections and fewer expansion permits.

The draft contract would guarantee an annual income of $375 million for the Central American country, about ten times more than what it was previously getting, according to government data.

Cobre Panama, a large open-pit copper mine in the Panama jungle, accounted for nearly half of First Quantum's earnings last year, as well as some 4% of Panama's gross domestic product.

First Quantum and Minera Panama did not immediately reply to requests for comment on the withdrawal.

(Reporting by Elida Moreno and Valentine Hilaire; Editing by Kylie Madry and Marguerita Choy)