SANTIAGO, Nov 23 (Reuters) – Chilean lithium and fertilizer producer Sociedad Quimica Y Minera (SQM) said on Thursday its ongoing legal dispute with Chilean authorities over royalty payments may not be resolved until the end of 2018.

Talks to resolve the arbitration between SQM and Chilean government development agency Corfo ended at an impasse in October, leaving the fate of the company’s lease in the Salar de Atacama, home to some of the world’s most productive lithium deposits, in question.

Chief Executive Patricio de Solminihac told analysts on a conference call following the company’s third quarter results that SQM remained open to negotiations.

“If we don’t find the solution, the arbitration will continue and we will have a resolution from the arbitrator. But that could take all next year,” he said.

Corfo has alleged that SQM failed to meet contractual obligations in its lease agreement with the government. SQM, one of the world’s top lithium producers, says it has fully complied.

The unresolved dispute has weighed on SQM’s shares .

However, Canada’s Potash Corporation said it has received significant interest from potential buyers of its 32 percent stake in SQM, as demand rises for lithium, essential for batteries used in electric vehicles.

Potash has to sell the stake for regulatory reasons, ahead of a merger with Agrium.

On Tuesday, banking sources told Reuters that Rio Tinto, Canada’s Wealth Minerals and Chinese private equity firm GSR Capital were considering bidding for an SQM stake.

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Felipe Iturrieta, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien).

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