The new commodity superpowers – by Leslie Hook, Harry Dempsey and Ciara Nugent in Buenos Aires (Financial Times – August 7, 2023)

In the first part of a series, countries that produce the metals central to the energy transition want to rewrite the rules of mineral extraction

The red-brown landscape of Tenke-Fungurume, one of the world’s largest copper and cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is covered by tens of thousands of dusty sacks. The bags stacked up by the roadside and piled next to buildings contain a stash of cobalt hydroxide powder equivalent to almost a tenth of the world’s annual consumption — and worth about half a billion dollars.

The haphazard stockpiles of this bright green powder, a key ingredient in electric car batteries, point to how the DRC, the world’s largest producer of cobalt, is starting to flex its muscles when it comes to the metals needed for the energy transition.

CMOC, the Chinese operator of the Tenke-Fungurume mine, agreed in April to pay $800mn to the government to settle a tax dispute which had seen the company slapped with an export ban for the previous 10 months.

And now the DRC government is undertaking a sweeping review of all its mining joint ventures with foreign investors. “We’re not satisfied. None of these contracts create value for us,” says Guy Robert Lukama, head of the DRC’s state-owned mining company Gécamines. He would like to see more jobs, revenue and higher-value mineral activities captured by the DRC.

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