Deputy Mining Secretary Pablo Wagner has wrapped up a two-day visit to New York, where he tried to drum up interest among investors in bidding for contracts to produce lithium in Chile, which has 25 percent of the world's reserves of the mineral.

"They found it to be a good opportunity to develop the market and those with more knowledge of the Chilean mining industry told us this was a solution that had been awaited for some time to open the lithium market to a larger number of operators," Wagner told Efe.

The Chilean official said he met with investment banks, investment funds and representatives of mining firms in an effort to make the auction "as competitive as possible."

The Chilean government opened the bidding last week, with the winner signing a special lithium operating contract, or CEOL.

The CEOL covers exploration and production of lithium, most of which is in northern Chile's Atacama desert.

The 20-year contracts, which exclude areas already in production under a 1932 mining law, are expected to generate about $350 million for the government.

Opponents of the sale of lithium mining rights claim it violates a 1973 mining law and amounts to a privatization of public resources.

Wagner, however, said "there is nothing new in this" because two private firms were already producing lithium in Chile.

The contract "opens the possibility for everyone to produce," Wagner said. EFE