Friday, 3 November 2017

NZ-India FTA 'on life support' ; China Tightens Grip on Congo's Cobalt; Strategic and Beautiful Djibouti

NZ-India FTA 'on life support'

NZ-India FTA 'on life support'

By Shane Cowlishaw   |  02:54pm 2 November 2017


China Tightens Grip on Congo's Cobalt 

The global push for electric vehicles is set to make cobalt one of the world’s most strategically important elements. Over 60 percent of the world’s cobalt comes from one country: the sprawling central African country officially called the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Chinese firms already control most of the cobalt trade from the Congo and recently showed their intent to further tighten their grip on this all-important element. 
In late September, the Congolese Mines Minister Martin Kabwelulu directed that the Chinese controlled Sicomines would be banned from exporting raw copper and cobalt ore until it began refining some of the ore in the Congo. He urged Sicomines to set up refineries in the country and export “only high value products.” By October 11th, the ban had been lifted and the mining firm, whose majority shareholders are Sinohydro Corp and the China Railway Group, reported “Everything has returned to normal.” Reportedly, Beijing complained the ban violated a 2007 agreement under which China agreed to build $ 3 billion worth of infrastructure in the Congo to support its mining activities. Kabwelulu, ironically, had cited the debt payments that would follow as a reason for demanding the Chinese firm refine the ores.
Meanwhile, the Guangdong Silver Age company announced it had signed a letter of intent in October to buy three new cobalt mining licenses from Congo.

BATTERIES: Cobalt is an essential element to the lightweight lithium batteries used in mobile phones, laptops and electric vehicles. Unlike lithium, cobalt is relatively rare. About 70,000 tonnes of a global total of about 110,000 tonnes of cobalt is produced in Congo. In most countries cobalt is a side-product of copper and nickel mining. Because of their dominant position in electronics manufacturing, Chinese firms have long been majors in cobalt mining. Ninety per cent of China’s cobalt comes from Congo.
An average smartphone uses about 5 to 10 grams of cobalt and a laptop about 30 grams. Electric cars are cobalt guzzlers using 5 to 10 kilograms each. India announced plans to have most of its car fleet electrical by 2030. China has said it has similar plans but it has expressed its intention to be the world leader in electrical vehicles, a target that will only be possible if it can guarantee supplies of cobalt.
The price of cobalt was about $ 25,000 a tonne. However, with cobalt demand from the battery sector having tripled in the past five years this price is set to soar.
One Chinese company, Congo DongFang International Mining (CDM), dominates cobalt mining in Congo. CD, in turn, is part of one of the world’s largest cobalt makers Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt. Between 20 to 40 per cent of Congo’s production comes from so-called artisanal mines who are run by unregulated individual miners who work with primitive tools or even their hands. Numbering about 100,000, they and their families suffer from a number of resulting health issues. The rest of the cobalt comes from large-scale mines. Whether the cobalt supply chain originates from the illegal mines or the organized ones, studies show the bulk of this ore ends up with CDM.

KOLWEZI: Much of the cobalt mining is centred around the town of Kolwezi in southern Congo. The artisanal miners sell their ore for anywhere between $ 900 to $50 to an oligopoly of about 70 shops at the Musompo town market. Many of the shops are run by Chinese. The ore is then trucked across to Zambia and then shipped to China or other parts of Asia from ports in Tanzania and South Africa.
A scramble has already broken out among car companies to secure long term supplies of cobalt. Volkswagen last month failed to secure even a five-year agreement on cobalt supplies. Mining companies are reluctant to agree as prices and demand are set to rise in an unpredictable manner. Wood Mackenzie, for example, predicts a whopping 1100 per cent increase in cobalt demand by 2025. Benchmark Mineral Intelligence predicts a more sedate doubling of prices by 2020. The past year has seen cobalt prices jump 80 per cent. In comparison lithium prices have risen only 20 per cent. The premium for ethically mined cobalt could become even more extravagant. And Congo, among the most politically unstable countries in the world, lies at the centre of the growing cobalt frenzy. 

Source: (The views expressed are personal).

Strategic and Beautiful Djibouti  
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind became the first Indian head of state to visit the tiny enclave nation of Djibouti. Djibouti recently became host to China’s first Indian Ocean military base, but reflecting its strategic location at the confluence of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden it is also home to bases by France, the United States and Japan.
Lonely Planet, however, has listed it as one of the top tourist destinations of 2018. This is because of Djibouti’s unusual geology. Says Lonely Planet, “this petite nation is in the process of being ripped in three by diverging tectonic plates. Magma seethes beneath ever-thinning crust; Martian-like deserts spew steam from fumaroles; and sunken lake shores glisten with huge salt crystals.”
Among the tourist highlights: Lake Assal, the second saltiest body of water in the world, and among the world’s best locations to swim among giant but harmless whale sharks. However, other than the military bases, Djibouti is somewhat lacking in infrastructure. 

Source: (The views expressed are personal).

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