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Resource Nationalism Growing Factor as Nations Continue Quest to Reduce Reliance on China for Critical Minerals

As Western nations continue their push to reduce their over-reliance on China for their critical mineral needs, some of the key players, including the United States and the European Union, have increasingly turned their eyes on Africa, a continent that is home to an estimated 20% of the metals and minerals required in EV battery technology, and a vast array of other critical minerals as well.

With the continent’s “geopolitical stock” on the rise, observers see African countries becoming more assertive in negotiating mineral deals with external actors, and resorting to resource nationalism “in some economies where we see an insistence on local processing, more stringent local content requirements and generally attempts to integrate these critical mineral supply chains with a broad drive for industrialization.”

Most recently, Kenya is making headlines with legislation pending that would establish a Mining Regulatory Authority to replace the current Mining Rights Board, which would, unlike its predecessor which was an advisory body, “control the exploration, extraction, production, processing, refining, transportation, storage exportation, importation and sale of minerals.”

Kenya is home to significant deposits of copper, graphite, manganese, nickel and iron ore, demand scenarios for which are surging.

With the coronavirus pandemic spotlighting supply chain security issues for critical minerals and against the backdrop of ever-increasing demand, export controls have gained in popularity as a policy tool.

Earlier this summer, reports of India considering an export ban on four key metals – lithium, beryllium, niobium, and tantalum — made headlines on the heels of China announcing export restrictions on gallium and germanium, followed by controls on certain drones and drone-related equipment.

Zimbabwe banned lithium ore exports last December, and Namibia recently banned the export of unprocessed lithium and other critical minerals.

All these announcements tie into a larger trend, which has been noticeable particularly in Latin America, a region with a historic penchant for nationalism, but also elsewhere.

ARPN has featured recent nationalist moves in Chile, Mexico and Bolivia, as well as in Myanmar, Indonesia, and China, and has showcased that even in the Western world, government involvement in the critical minerals sector is on the rise.

Some argue that rather than seeing emerging resource nationalism as a cause for concern, we should embrace it and understand it as an opportunity as “raw material export bans would encourage the construction of processing facilities in producer countries, allow them to claim a larger share of the value chain, (…) encourage the global dispersion of processing capacity that is today dangerously concentrated in China,” and the U.S. could harness this development via an expansion of its friend-shoring network.

Opportunity or threat – resource nationalism is increasingly becoming a policy tool the U.S. and our allies will have to factor into our efforts to decouple from adversary nations, i.e. China. In the process, as ARPN previously outlined, we will have to carefully balance domestic and global policy approaches — as well as public and private sector roles with economic and security concerns to reflect the geopolitical realities of our times.

And, as followers of ARPN well know, this can be best achieved within the context of a comprehensive all-of-the-above approach that focuses on domestic resource development where possible and leverages partnerships where needed.