LIMA (Reuters) - Southern Copper's long-stalled Tia Maria project in Peru is set to break ground by the end of the year or in the first half of 2025, a senior company executive told Reuters, which would mark a major breakthrough for the $1.4 billion mine.

Raul Jacob, vice president of finance at Southern Copper, Peru's third largest copper producer controlled by Grupo Mexico, said "social conditions" had improved after years of protest that have halted the mine's development.

"We are fine-tuning details to be able to begin construction towards the end of this year or in the first part of next year," said Jacob, giving for the first time in years a concrete estimated start date for work on the project.

"There are no pending licenses, we have all the authorizations and we have not stopped working with the communities."

Peru, the world's second largest exporter of copper, is battling to rev up production as it jostles with rival producer the Democratic Republic of Congo and looks to revive a faltering economy after years of political turmoil and unrest.

Tia Maria, in the Islay province of the Arequipa region, is expected to eventually produce 120,000 tons of copper annually.

The project has, however, been held up for over a decade due to opposition from communities due to fears of the mine's environmental impact. Protests against the mine left six people dead between 2011 and 2015.

In 2019, after new protests, the government suspended its construction license for 120 days and agreed with Southern Copper that the project would only move forward when the social conditions were suitable.

Peru's government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mining minister Romulo Mucho told Reuters in May that the start of a new large mining project such as Tia Maria would be an important jolt to help ignite the economy.

Jacob said that copper prices at record levels would mean the project benefited both the state and the local region around the mine. He added Southern Copper expects to boost copper production in Peru 20% this year from 374,149 tons last year.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Chizu Nomiyama)

By Marco Aquino