The measures that the EU announced earlier this year for the extraction of (new) metals and minerals fall seriously short. The EU has drawn up measures for 24 'rare metals', but 75% of these appear to be insufficient or unfeasible. There is a real danger that after OPEC, Europe will have to deal again with cartel formation in the metal field (OMEC). The dependence on China, in particular, is dangerously high.

Lithium, cobalt, nickel and other metals are crucial for the global energy transition. Especially for the explosive growth of electric vehicles (EVs), battery storage and other green energy applications. The market for 'rare' metals and minerals has doubled in the past five years to $320 billion, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). And it is expected to double again by 2040.

China plays a dominant role in the field of rare raw materials. According to our researchers, 91% of the world's magnesium and 76% of the silicon reserves are held by China. The EU is also heavily dependent on China for manganese. In addition, for example, 60% of the global cobalt market is in the hands of the Democratic Republic of Congo. South Africa has 71% of the platinum supply, and Russia has 40% of the palladium.

According to Johan Geeroms, our Director Risk Underwriting Benelux, the geopolitical risks are high. “If those countries join forces as the oil-producing countries did, the EU is extremely vulnerable to manipulation and trade wars. You'll end up with a kind of OMEC in addition to OPEC. They'll determine the price and what's available. According to our research department, the measures announced by the EU last spring to prevent this dependence are wholly inadequate.”

Johan Geeroms is referring to the CRM bill (Critical Raw Materials). It states, among other things, that 10% of 18 selected raw materials must come from European mines. According to the research report, this will certainly not be possible for 7 raw materials (antimony, borate, manganese, natural graphite, rare earth metals, tantalum and titanium). Furthermore, 24 raw materials have been named for which the EU requires that at least 40% of the annual consumption must come from European refineries. According to Allianz Trade, this will not work for 21 raw materials.

Europe is trying to reduce dependency. For example, by encouraging the construction of mines within European territories. Take Portugal, for example; there is quite a bit of lithium there. And a large reserve of rare earth metals has also been found in Sweden. The EU wants to boost investment in the mining of new metals. Among other things, by simplifying the permit process and lowering administrative barriers.

According to Johan Geeroms, the EU has for years left the extraction of rare metals to other countries (Australia, China) in order to avoid environmental damage in Europe. “Now we are in a hurry to catch up. In our opinion, this will be much more difficult than the CRM law suggests. Our researchers foresee that the EU will not achieve most of the set targets. So we primarily advocate focusing on smart trade policy (strategic partnerships) and working on diversification of the global supply chains.”

Recycling is also an important asset for the EU. The CRM law states that 15% of annual consumption must be made available through recycling. Johan Geeroms explains, “It sounds great, but it has to be feasible. Sixteen strategic raw materials have been designated for recycling, but we believe the 15% target is achievable only for four metals. For example, insufficient scrap quantities are available for the rapidly growing demand, such as lithium.”

Finally, Johan Geeroms points to the vulnerability of supply chains. “Look at the period of covid-19, or take the war in Ukraine. The supply of goods has been severely disrupted. This vulnerability becomes even more significant with the enormous demand for new metals, which are mainly in the hands of a select group of countries, that are questionable when it comes to reliability."

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