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Final legal discussions underway for EU-Serbia lithium trade partnership

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Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič revealed that the final legal obstacles are being addressed before the EU-Serbia trade partnership, focused on sourcing lithium from the Jadar region, is finalized. Negotiations are in the concluding stages, as mentioned during a significant event in Brussels.

The trade agreement, aimed at sourcing critical raw materials from Serbia, has been in the works since last September when a letter of intent was signed to enhance cooperation in critical raw materials and electric vehicle value chains. This step signaled the willingness of both the EU executive and Belgrade to collaborate, contingent upon addressing environmental and social acceptance challenges surrounding the potential mining area.

Speaking at the EIT Raw Materials Summit in Brussels, Šefčovič highlighted Serbia’s strategic importance due to minerals listed in the EU’s Critical Raw Materials Act, particularly high-quality lithium, which he praised as among the best globally. He expressed optimism about finalizing the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) soon, with ongoing discussions focusing on lithium extraction, processing, refining, and utilization.

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While Šefčovič didn’t directly mention Rio Tinto‘s operations in Serbia, the company has been seeking to renew its environmental permit to operate in the Jadar area, renowned for its abundant lithium deposits. The license was revoked in January 2022 following opposition from environmental groups and locals.

Šefčovič assured that the EU is closely engaged with the Serbian government to ensure adherence to the highest environmental standards during assessments. He emphasized that the project’s progression depends on the Serbian government’s decision.

Chad Blewitt, managing director of the Jadar project at Rio Tinto, stated that the company plans to release a comprehensive 200-page environmental impact assessment in the summer. Rio Tinto is awaiting a decision from the Serbian government and aims to proceed with the project, expected to produce 58 tonnes of lithium carbonate annually, sufficient to power one million electric vehicles.

Blewitt reiterated the company’s commitment to transparency, asserting its adherence to the highest environmental standards and community support measures.

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