Africa – EU cooperation on raw materials

Africa and Europe in Partnership website. The African Union Commission (AUC) and the European Commission (EC) have agreed to bilateral co-operation with regard to access to raw materials and to work together on governance, infrastructure and geological knowledge and skills.

The co-operation was agreed at a meeting in Addis Ababa earlier in June. In a joint declaration, both partners committed to developing bilateral co-operation in the field of raw materials and work together, taking fully into account the Africa Mining Vision of February 2009 and the EU Raw Materials Initiative of December 2008, to the elaboration of further progress and initiatives, in particular on issues such as governance, infrastructure and investment and geological knowledge and skills.

From Africa’s perspective, closer cooperation should help eradicate the long standing problem of overseas investors coming only in search of raw materials, and leaving nothing other than a hole in the ground behind. It is well known that Africa is abundantly rich in natural resources; the Democratic Republic of Congo (the former Zaire) for example is a major source of cobalt and tantalum, while Rwanda is a source of tantalum and South Africa is a major resource for platinum. But the real value of, say, iron ore is not what it is worth on the international markets, but its worth as a finished product.

The EU is dependent on imports of “high tech” metals such as cobalt, platinum, rare earths, and titanium. Such materials play an essential role in the development of innovative “environmental technologies” for boosting energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, the availability of raw materials is coming under increasing pressure. According to a European Commission report, 14 raw materials are classified as “critical” out of 41 minerals and metals analysed. These raw mineral materials are antimony, beryllium, cobalt, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite, indium, magnesium, niobium, PGMs (platinum group metals), rare earths, tantalum and tungsten. Forecasts indicate that demand might more than triple for a series of critical raw materials by 2030 compared with the 2006 level. Growing demand driven by developing economies and new emerging technologies are identified as the main factors. Closer co-operation is needed to ensure that access to essential raw materials is maintained in a sustainable manner.

Commissioner Tajani reiterated the EU’s commitment to promote “sustainable access to raw materials in the field of development policy” by building capacity, to ensure good governance and transparency in resource rich countries through an enhanced use of budget support and support to international initiatives such as the Kimberley Process (which deals with the diamond sector), the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), and the World Bank initiative on governance for extractive industry (EITI++).

The EU will pursue a policy of seeking fair play on external markets, a good framework to foster sustainable raw materials supply from EU sources as well as improved resource efficiency and more use of recycling.

The European Commission report also makes a number of recommendations to overcome the issue of raw material shortages, such as updating the list of EU critical raw materials every 5 years, enlarging the scope for criticality assessment and establishing policy actions to improve access to primary resources and make recycling of raw materials more efficient. The results of the report will be used by the Commission in drafting a communication on strategies to ensure the EU’s access to raw materials, which will be published in autumn 2010.

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