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Japan builds supply chains for cobalt in Africa

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Japan’s government plans to work with three African nations to develop supply chains for cobalt and other minerals critical in making electric vehicle batteries, Nikkei has learned.

Tokyo will team with Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Namibia to expand joint exploration in each country. The projects are due to start as soon as within the year.

Japan looks to diversify its sources of critical minerals, including lithium, in order to enhance economic security and counter China’s growing investment in African countries.

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The Japan Organization for Metals and Energy Security, the state-owned resource explorer known as JOGMEC, intends to sign a memorandum of understanding with Zambia soon. JOGMEC also will finalize work plans with Congo and Namibia based on preliminary agreements already reached with the two countries.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan’s minister for economy, trade and industry, said Tuesday that he will visit the three countries, along with Angola and Madagascar, during his eight-day tour of Africa that will end Aug. 13. The signing of the memorandum of understanding and other agreements will coincide with the itinerary.

Though JOGMEC is active in Zambia, Congo and Namibia, no private-sector Japanese company has entered any of those countries to develop mining projects for critical minerals due to various risks and the large amount of capital required. A government-led effort to develop resources is seen helping draw private investment.

Japan and Zambia will begin to explore the entirety of the African country, expanding the scope of the search from cobalt and copper to include nickel. Through JOGMEC, Japan will provide remote sensing technology to identify potential mining sites using satellite imagery.

Tokyo will hold a conference with private businesses to address mining investment. Japanese companies such as Nissan Motor and trading house Hanwa are expected to attend.

In Congo, copper and lithium will be the targets of expanded exploration. A remote sensing center is being built in the country with support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency. JOGMEC will be among those to help train people locally in the technology.

For Namibia, Japan will agree to a work plan with Epangelo, Namibia’s state-owned mining company, looking to reinforce the supply chain for rare earths and other minerals.

Though Namibia is rich in zinc, copper and other resources, its supply chain remains underdeveloped. Yet Namibia has a large port that places the country in the running to be a major African export hub.

Japan seeks to become involved in developing African mines at an early stage with the goal of importing resources from the region. Tokyo will deepen relations with the three countries with an eye toward building an African supply chain capable of extracting, refining and transporting critical minerals.

Demand is growing for minerals such as cobalt and nickel, used to make electric vehicle batteries. Congo is responsible for 70% of the global supply of cobalt by volume. Africa is a major source of copper as well.

Chinese enterprises have invested heavily in Africa, especially in Congo. As a result, China has quickly expanded its market share in processing critical EV minerals.

If China restricts exports in response to tensions with the U.S., it would impede efforts by Japan and Western nations to bring EVs into the mainstream and reduce carbon emissions.

Japan and other Group of Seven industrial nations depend heavily on China and a few other countries for imports of critical minerals. During the group’s May summit in Hiroshima, G7 leaders agreed in the joint communique to work with developing nations to diversify the supply chain for critical minerals.


Source: Nikkei Asia

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