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EU strengthens critical mineral partnerships with DRC and Zambia to enhance supply chain resilience

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In October 2023, at the Global Gateway Forum in Brussels, the European Union (EU) Commission made significant strides in securing its critical raw materials (CRM) supply chains. It signed strategic partnerships on CRM value chains with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia. These agreements underscore the EU’s strategic pivot towards reducing dependency risks associated with third-party suppliers, particularly China, amid global geopolitical shifts.

Unlike the United States, which signed a joint memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Zambia and the DRC in December 2022, the EU opted for separate agreements. However, both MoUs share common objectives of enhancing CRM cooperation, underscoring mutual vulnerabilities, exacerbated by recent global events like Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2023, the EU proposed the Critical Raw Materials Act to secure a sustainable and diversified CRM supply. This legislative initiative aims to bolster Europe’s resilience by refining, processing, and recycling CRMs within its borders. Ursula von der Leyen, EU Commission President, emphasized the act’s role in fostering technologies pivotal to Europe’s green and digital transitions, highlighting wind power, hydrogen storage, and battery manufacturing.

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The EU’s CRM strategy updates its list to include sixteen strategic minerals essential for these transitions, defense, and space sectors, critical due to concentrated imports from non-EU countries, primarily China. The EU acknowledges its continued dependence on these imports but aims to strengthen domestic mining, refining, and recycling capacities by 2030.

Strategic partnerships with resource-rich nations like the DRC and Zambia are pivotal. The DRC dominates global cobalt production and is a major copper producer, while Zambia ranks among the world’s largest copper producers with reserves of cobalt, nickel, and manganese. The EU’s MoUs with these countries focus on sustainable CRM value chains, infrastructure development, responsible production practices, research, innovation, and capacity building.

Aligning agendas between the EU, DRC, and Zambia is critical, balancing geopolitical concerns with developmental aspirations. The EU’s approach aligns with national security imperatives, whereas Zambia and the DRC seek industrialization and economic growth through local CRM value chains.

Both countries lack comprehensive CRM policies, unlike the EU’s defined list of CRMs. The DRC’s 2018 classification of cobalt, coltan, and germanium as strategic minerals was driven by economic opportunities rather than a strategic minerals policy. Zambia’s 2022 National Mineral Resource Development Policy addresses governance gaps but lacks a comprehensive CRM strategy.

The success of EU-DRC-Zambia agreements hinges on aligning diverse agendas and overcoming operational challenges. The upcoming roadmap will determine their viability, requiring collaboration amidst potential geopolitical tensions and competitive dynamics with other global players like the US and China.

In conclusion, while the EU advances its CRM strategy with DRC and Zambia, aligning strategic interests and policy priorities will be crucial for sustainable CRM cooperation and mutual benefit

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