Interview: Colombia Gold Symposium Is Returning – Bigger & Better – as CGS Medellín 2022
Formerly known as the Colombia Gold Summit, CGS Medellín is back bigger and better for 2022. The symposium and trade show hosts precious metals mining executives, operators and investors active in Colombia and the greater Andean region involved in gold, silver and copper extraction. Organized by Paul Harris, also the publisher of CGS Research, CGS Medellín along with its newer sibling, CGS Quito have become the most important precious metals mining industry events in the Andes region.
Finance Colombia executive editor Loren Moss caught up with a busy Paul Harris for an update on preparations for this year’s event, slated for November 8-9 at the Medellín Hotel Intercontinental. Moss will be a speaker at this year’s event covering mining technology investment, and major sponsors include GlobeXplore Drilling & Analytics, OilRed/Chevron, ALS, and Cordoba Minerals. Women In Mining Colombia and the Viva Air Foundation are supporting the Women In Mining Initiative.
Finance Colombia: I have always known your publication as Colombia Gold Letter. I know that you have been expanding. Now, you are doing more and more in Ecuador, and we want to talk about that and understand the broader scope that you have now. But then it is good to see that the Colombia Gold Symposium continues to grow. I noticed that you changed the venue, it is now going to be in the Hotel Intercontinental which I think provides more space for exhibits and meetings, but the event has always been full, so, tell me about what precipitated the change of venue and tell me about how the scope may be evolving or changing.
Paul Harris: Absolutely. This year will be our 7th event and it’s every year in November; and a couple of years ago because of our success, because we were every year selling out, we were becoming constrained by the size of the venue. Previously, we were in the San Fernando Plaza, so we were planning on shifting the event to the Hotel Intercontinental here in Medellin because it is a much bigger hotel, it has got a much bigger conference space and that plan was derailed a little bit by COVID.
Obviously, in 2020, we did a virtual event because of lockdown and people could not travel and then in 2021, last year when things started opening up, we were not certain to what extent, and how quickly things will open up, to what extent people would want to travel and things of that nature. So, last year we held it in the Marriott Hotel, which is a really good venue and it was a great event, but it is a venue that is very size restricted. So, this year we are going to hold it at the Hotel Intercontinental which is a good conference facility where we can have 400 or 500 people, we can have a much bigger exhibition space and so that is really the plan.
It is going to be a two-day event, again, this has been every year, and a big focus on the projects. It is now called CGS Medellin because as you mentioned earlier this year in June with did our first event in Quito (CGS Quito) and so CGS Medellin focuses on the gold projects in Colombia and hopefully the broader region as well. One of the key things this year, would be the discussing the change in government we will be discussing how government is relating to the mining sector and how it’s looking to develop the mining sector obviously, change things of that nature, so promising to be a very exciting, a very important event this year.
Finance Colombia: What your sense is as far as the optimism or pessimism or uncertainty from the mining sector with regards to what the policies might be with the new administration?
Paul Harris: Well, that’s a very big question and there are a lot of unknowns, yet. You have mentioned a few things. Gustavo Petro has named a Mining and Energy minister and it is someone, a mining engineer that has generally been seen as a positive in as much as presumably he has an understanding of the sector, some of its issues and its potential as well. Gustavo Petro has spoken out, as you mentioned, against the oil and gas sector, he has stated categorically that there is not going to be fracking on his watch, and he wants Colombia to be less dependent on the oil and gas and coal sector for income generation.
He has not really announced so much on the mining sector. By mining sector, we are talking here about hard rock mining, gold, copper, silver, things of that nature. That sector is a much smaller sector in Colombia than oil and gas. It is a sector that typically employs more people than the oil and gas sector does so, there could be a differentiation in his approach to the two sectors or sub-sectors because a lot of people are employed in the mining sector and he has positioned himself as a president for the people, one that is going to create opportunities, work towards greater equality and various different spheres.
So, from that point of view, one could imagine that he might embrace the mining sector because of his ability to create a lot of jobs in rural areas, areas that typically have not received a greater development or economic benefit traditionally being ignored by the central government out of Bogota. Your reference to the Vice-president, Francia, it perhaps could be instructive there way back in the early years of her life. I believe she was an artisanal miner in really a very basic form of panning gold, that kind of activity. So, that’s a huge activity in Colombia, tens of thousands of people earn their daily bread through that activity. So, one would expect the Petro administration to try and work to help that sector, to help perhaps formalize it, to help people working in that sector, create access to the financial system, provide access to health, to education things of that which historically they have not had access to.
It is unclear what the Petro administration will mean for more formal mining with larger companies. On the one hand, he could see them as put it in the same pocket as the oil and gas sector, see them as a, let’s say, the enemy; on the other hand, he could embrace them as a means of creating economic opportunities in rural areas and, time will tell.
Finance Colombia: I think that also it is easier to hold a commercial mining operation accountable, demand that they have things like environmental risk insurance, that they are paying their taxes, employing labor laws; I know that there’s been some innovations where some of the commercial mine operations actually working with artisanal miners say: “Hey, don’t go and get some cyanide and mercury and poison ýourself and your family trying to refine ore, just bring your ore to us and we will process it for you.” So, I think that that would be an incentive and also it is a way to keep artisanal miners from working with mafias and those types of organizations at the margins of the law so, he might be able to use, to leverage the commercial mining activity as a social lever with the with artisanal miners, no?
Paul Harris: Yes, absolutely. A lot of the formal mining companies and the exploration companies do have programs to work with artisanal miners, to help them with things such as improving their environmental performance, helping them get a better, fair price for their product, helping them with things like health and safety, helping formalize so they can get access to the financial system, legally trade the gold that they produce, get access to the Social Security service in Colombia and health and things like that. It really depends on the viewpoint or the attitude of the government, the incoming government takes
As I mentioned, on one hand, there is the view that mining is an activity run by foreign companies that are here to exploit us. On the other hand, another view is that because mining exploration companies are very embedded in rural communities where the state often does not reach, they do and can act as an anchor for the local economy generating prosperity, generating benefits, generating a local tax base so the local mayors actually have money to spend, to invest in different things.
I would say that speaking to somebody in the Ministry of Mining and Energy today, that had been going through the handover process with the incoming government, the comments I got is the process is going really well, they have been really engaged and really interested to get up to speed with things. So, for me that’s an indication that some of this momentum will carry across into the new administration. At the end of the day, let’s not forget that Gustavo Petro wants to invest more in health, he wants to invest more in education, wants to invest more in social opportunities, social equality all of these things cost money and the money has to come from somewhere and a lot of Colombia’s national budget, comes from resource exploration. So, it would seem to be shortsighted for the incoming administration to try to cut off [a revenue source that would] impact its ability to deliver its election promises
Finance Colombia: You know, this topic actually reminded me of something and that is you now have as part of the symposium, an awards ceremony for ESG, for Environmental Social and Governance and I almost forgot and I am glad that we kind of got into this topic because that is something that we want to highlight. Because you and I have both seen, when a mining company or even a petroleum company, when they have an accident or like what happened down there in Brazil with that dam, or when there is some kind of…when companies act bad or there is something wrong, it makes global news, it is all headlines on the other side of the world.
But when companies do things right, I look at the social inclusion, I look at the all women rescue team that went to the Mining Olympics a couple years ago, back I think with Continental (now Zijin Continental), I think about a lot of the different…I have seen things and you have too on the ground where I have seen some mines that go in and make a commitment to purchase goods and services from right there the local community. You know, there is bad news, there is a lot of good news and it is weird because the good news does not make the headlines, maybe my publication, maybe your publication but the broader, mass market publications that is not necessarily so. I think that the award ceremony that is given out at your event is something that is worth mentioning and worth paying attention to, if you could speak briefly on that.
Paul Harris: Absolutely. You know, I fully agree with you there. Companies generally have their ESG programs; they do various different things depending upon the needs of the local area. They work more from the things that they do with the environment, restoring environments or planting trees, you know that does get attention, the things they do: the women in mining initiative, employing women, training women, that that tends to get some attention as well, but last year we launched the CGS Economic Development Awards because in addition to creating jobs and putting money to social programs, a lot of companies help or leverage their own expertise to help foster the development of local businesses [and entrepreneurship] if you like, in the areas where they operate. They can bring their expertise, they can bring distribution, they could be bringing seed capital, all these things to help local people to develop their own businesses, and not be fully completely dependent on the mining project.
This was very successful, the winning company last year was Royal Road Minerals, and their project is basically like an incubator or venture capital company providing seed capital for local companies to start up and to get going. And it’s been very successful and this was something that I thought it was fantastic, more people need to know about it, other companies perhaps need to replicate this. So, the idea of the award was to give recognition and to show the industry in general that there are many different ways they can be a positive actor and create positive benefits over and beyond having a mining project and creating jobs and generating taxes.
Finance Colombia: Absolutely. I am familiar with Royal Road. They run, a good operation. Now, for those that want to attend or perhaps participate as a sponsor, you always have a great exhibit and the event is attended by a who’s who of investment, operations and politics. You know, I met the Canadian—now the former Canadian ambassador at the event, all types of different dignitaries and things like that. I will put the link in the podcast notes but if you could share with us just what the website or links are, for those that want to contact you?
Paul Harris: Absolutely. The website is www.colombiagold.co. My e-mail is [email protected] More than happy to talk to anyone about participating, as a delegate, potentially participating on the speaker program or the commercial opportunities that you mentioned.
Over the seven years the event really has grown quite a lot of a momentum, each year which we typically have in the commercial exhibit the Colombian Government, whether it is the National Mining Agency and or the Colombian Geological Survey, they typically have a booth so they can engage and meet people. Last year, the past couple of years we had a delegation from Canada, a trade mission from Canada, this year looks like we are going to have in addition to the Canadians, we are talking, to a Chinese group wants to bring a mission in or a delegation in, and Sweden and also Australia as well. So, we really are going to have a very international focus this year
Finance Colombia: It is always top quality. I have it locked on my calendar every year. It is the most important event, especially when you talk about having a cross section, there are some other events that have got the cranes and the bulldozers and things like that, but this is really an event when you have people who are in operations, people who run ESG, you have mining executives and just as important, with us being Finance Colombia, you have the investment sector, you have people who are in intermediate finance, mezzanine and asset based finance I believe, some of the major private equity companies that focus on mining have been there, whether they are from Canada or as far away as Australia, I always learn something. You have the geologists that do the short course, I need to get in early, every year they’re sold out! I always want to attend that. So, I’m looking forward to it and I appreciate your time and it’s always, it’s great to talk to you and I think I still owe you a lunch so we will get together here soon
Paul Harris: Well I look forward to that. I appreciate the time to talk with you about this Loren. Thank you very much for your help. I look forward to seeing you do. The event is the 8th and 9th of November but I look forward to see you before then.