Breaking new ground: The EU’s push for raw materials sovereignty

(EurActiv, 18 Nov 2019) A new pro-mining investment policy, more free trade deals, and an incoming “geopolitical” European Commission signals the EU will stake more claim on critical raw materials.

Raw materials experts from Japan and the United States descend on Brussels this week for an annual trilateral with Europe. The conversation is likely to focus on supply risks to critical raw materials, among them those in high demand for the low-carbon transition, such as rare earths used in wind turbines, and lithium used in electric car batteries.

Though generally an informal meet, global trade tension will give the talks a more geopolitical edge. Australia, Canada and South Korea delegates have joined as observers. China, although it produces 70% of the world’s raw materials, is not involved.

“The three regions are significant net importers of critical materials, mainly, but not exclusively from China,” says Erika Faigen, an expert on global rare earths value chains based in Melbourne, Australia.

“The access to these minerals and materials will define who is in a strong position for the low-carbon transition,” she said.

Resource sovereignty

Access is exactly what Japan, the US and EU would like to secure. The trilateral talks were initiated during the “rare earths crisis” in 2011 when the world’s leading developed nations became wary about supply risks.

At that time, a trade dispute between China and Japan raised anxieties that Beijing could stem supply of the metals, which are irreplaceable for technology.

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EurActiv, 18 Nov 2019: Breaking new ground: The EU’s push for raw materials sovereignty