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UPDATE 2-Albemarle declines to participate in LME lithium contract

Ernest Scheyder

(Adds statement from LME, paragraphs 6, 7)

SANTIAGO, June 11 (Reuters) - Albemarle Corp, the world's largest lithium producer, said on Tuesday it will not participate in the London Metal Exchange's plan to launch a new contract for the white metal, depriving it of a key source of pricing data.

The move reflects a view by some that lithium, used to make electric car batteries, is a specialty chemical rather than a basic commodity, and should be priced on a contract-by-contract basis.

"An exchange contract tends to support a commodity market, and that's not what we believe this (lithium market) is," David Ryan, Albemarle's head of corporate strategy and investor relations, told the Fastmarkets Lithium Supply and Markets Conference in Santiago.

The LME, owned by Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd , on Monday chose Fastmarkets to provide a reference price for the contract.

"At this point our intent is that we will not be providing price information to the index," said Ryan.

The LME said in a statement to Reuters that it respects the right of companies to operate in whatever ways best suit their needs.

"The LME continues to work with a supportive group of industry participants to develop solutions for the lithium industry, and will launch a contract when those participants are ready to use it," spokeswoman Bianca Blake said

Unlike for copper or other metals used to make electric cars, there has not been a traded price for lithium, leaving the industry's investors, customers, analysts and executives without a full sense of the global market.

Ryan spoke on a panel presentation alongside executives from rivals SQM and Tianqi Lithium Corp, who agreed that lithium is not a true commodity. But they stopped short of saying their companies would not work with the LME, the world's oldest and largest market for industrial metals.

"A pricing benchmark can be helpful to provide some clarity to the industry, but also if it's not right, it could be misleading," said Emma Hall, Tianqi's vice president of corporate development and marketing.

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Albemarle operates across Chile, Australia and the United States, providing lithium used by Panasonic Corp to make batteries for Tesla Inc and other electric automakers.

The company sells nearly all its lithium on long-term contracts, not spot deals, which would be the most influenced by a LME lithium price.

Many long-term supply contracts are already referencing an LME price, an anticipatory step designed to set future deal parameters, industry investors have told Reuters.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jeffrey Benkoe and David Gregorio)