Panama gov't orders First Quantum to end mining operations, country unit says

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

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) -Panama's trade and industry ministry has ordered Canada's First Quantum to end operations at its lucrative copper mine, the firm's unit in the country said on Friday.

The ministry sent the unit, Cobre Panama, a formal advisory that it must "end extraction, processing, refining, transportation, export and sales activities" at the mine, Cobre Panama said in a statement.

It must also take measures to secure the facilities and avoid environmental damage at the site, the miner said.

The ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The government order comes after Panama's Supreme Court ruled last month that First Quantum's contract to operate the mine was unconstitutional, following months of protests.

The mine's closure could cause Panama to sharply cut its 2024 economic growth forecasts, a government official told Reuters last week. The Cobre Panama mine accounts for some 5% of Panama's GDP.

Because it must close the mine, Cobre Panama said it has requested government authorization to lay off more than 4,000 of its employees.

"This measure will be developed in parallel with the voluntary retirement program presented by the company on Dec. 3, with the help of the (mine's) union," Cobre Panama said.

Last month, it suspended the contracts of 7,000 staff at the mine.

The mine's union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Eli Moreno; Writing by Kylie Madry; Editing by Isabel Woodford)