Wednesday the European Union announced a major new “vision” for dealing with strategic commodities and raw materials. The EU published a communication that lists 14 raw materials (antimony, beryllium, cobalt, fluorite, gallium, germanium, graphite, indium, magnesium, niobium, platinum metals, tantalum, tungsten and rare-earths) it has identified as being at a higher risk of supply interruption and highly important to region’s economy.
The EU says its new efforts build on a 2008 plan on raw materials, but appears to be, in part, a reaction of how speculative derivative trading in raw materials has caused increased volatility in supply prices/availability.
Last September, the European Commission implemented new regulations about derivative markets and trading, however it appears that it will take further steps to eliminate systemic risks.
Besides regulatory steps, the EU says it will pursue expanding the possibility of opening new mines in the region so as to make it less dependent on external suppliers:
“Although the EU is very import-dependent on metals, Europe is endowed with strong industrial minerals and building materials industries. Moreover, despite dependence on metals imports, there are important deposits of many metals in many regions of the EU. Therefore the potential for mining in Europe is strong and many Member States are making use of their deposits. However, in spite of this, many barriers to mining exists, some of which are administrative and some which are often due to the sector being subject to various overlapping and conflicting policies.”
These mining proposals are causing some concerns because they also refer to creating or modifying “land use policy planning” and “putting in place a clear authorization process for exploration and extraction.” There are fears that these decisions will override environmental standards and at least one report says an EU commissioner has said that one set of protected lands, Natura 2000, may be opened to mining.
Another major component of the plan seems to be having a more-conscious effort to develop long-term agreements with African nations:
“As an example of the EU’s commitment to help developing countries to use mining as an instrument for development and poverty reduction, as part of the EU-Africa Joint Strategy for 2011-13, agreement was reached to cooperate in three main areas: governance, investment/infrastructure and geological knowledge/skills. This cooperation will also explore how resource rich countries can better link the extractive industry to local industry and communities.”
The plan also includes:
- Increasing materials innovations and substitution options;
- Stimulating urban mining/materials recycling;
- Studying the effect of raw materials and commodity prices on food supplies.
To my knowledge, the closest the United States has come to a similar plan is the DOE’s Critical Materials Strategy published in December.