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Why Africa Should Think Twice Before Banning Critical Mineral Exports

Experts at the Mining Indaba conference share their views on the pros and cons of imposing export bans on critical minerals in Africa.

by Motoni Olodun

Africa is home to some of the world’s most valuable minerals, such as cobalt, lithium, and rare earths. These minerals are essential for the production of green technologies, such as electric vehicles, solar panels, and wind turbines. However, many African countries are considering imposing export bans on these raw materials, hoping to boost their local beneficiation and industrialization.

But is this a wise move? Experts warn that export bans may not be the best strategy for Africa to reap the benefits of its mineral wealth. Instead, they suggest that African countries should focus on improving their infrastructure, energy supply, and skills development to attract more investment and create more value-added products.

According to Benedikt Sobotka, CEO of Eurasian Resources Group (ERG), a Kazakh miner with operations in Africa, export bans are not automatically beneficial for African countries. He cited the examples of Ghana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, which have all implemented and then waived export bans on certain minerals, such as lithium, in the past.

Speaking at the Mining Indaba conference this week, Sobotka and Shirley Webber, head of natural resources at Absa Corporate Investment Banking, said that a reliable electricity supply, as well as freight and port infrastructure, were critical for the development of a minerals downstream sector. They also pointed out the risks of relying on coal-fired power generation for processing green minerals, as this would make them subject to carbon taxes and tariffs from the European Union and other markets.

Webber said that the lesson for Africa is that the beneficiation of green metals cannot happen without renewable energy. She also suggested that African countries should collaborate in regional beneficiation hubs, such as the partnership between Zambia and the Congo to produce nickel, manganese, and cobalt battery precursor minerals.

In a separate discussion on resource nationalism around mineral assets, Hulme Scholes, a mining attorney, said that governments should not get involved in any form of mining activity, except to make the investment environment as friendly as possible through a sound tax regime, a user-friendly mining licensing system, an online geological database, and a predictable royalty rate. He also criticized the beneficiation imperatives, saying that market conditions should determine whether it makes sense to beneficiate or not.

Africa’s move to ban critical mineral exports is part of a global trend of increasing resource nationalism, as countries seek to secure their strategic interests and maximize their revenues from natural resources. However, as the experts at the Mining Indaba conference argued, export bans may not be the most effective way to achieve these goals. Instead, Africa should leverage its mineral potential to foster sustainable development, innovation, and regional integration.

Source: Miningmx

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