As the UK works to secure critical minerals supply from around the world, UK Minister of State for Industry in the Department for Business and Trade Nusrat Ghani tells Mining Weekly that the upcoming UK-African Investment Summit in April 2024 will be a good forum for engaging critical mineral-hosting nations on the African continent.
Ghani this week already met with representatives of the South African High Commission in London at the inaugural London Indaba on June 26 and 27, which focused on resources in Africa.
Inter-Ministerial groups to help bolster relations between the UK and countries in Africa have also been set up.
One such inter-Ministerial roundtable, in Canada, had substantial representation from African host countries.
The UK-African Investment Summit will see political and business leaders from the UK and 24 African countries, as well as international organizations, congregate to strengthen partnerships and explore opportunities.
Following the UK government’s publishing in July 2022 of a Critical Minerals Strategy, which set out its approach to accelerate the UK’s sourcing and supplying of certain commodities, the country in March released an updated policy paper ‘Critical Minerals Refresh: Delivering Resilience in a Changing Global Environment’.
The updated document sets out how the UK is delivering the strategy for businesses, in light of a changing global landscape and the sharpening of geopolitical competition.
Ghani confirms that the country has launched an independent Task & Finish Group on Critical Minerals Resilience to investigate the critical mineral dependencies and vulnerabilities across the country’s industry sectors and opportunities for industry to promote resilience in its supply chains.
The group will produce a report on its findings and recommendations by the end of the year.
The group brings together independent experts to advise the government on where dependencies exist in the UK’s critical minerals supply chains, and how industry can protect its supply.
Some of the task group members include the Critical Minerals Association, the Minor Metals Trade Association, Rolls-Royce, Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Johnson Matthey.
In the meantime, the UK has been accelerating its collaboration on critical minerals with international partners, including Canada and South Africa, to not only source commodities such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, tin, gallium, rare earths and silicon, but also to collaborate on research and development and provide development assistance.
Ghani says critical minerals underpin various technologies, particularly those used to mitigate against climate change, with large parts of the UK economy being reliant on access to critical minerals.
Not only are critical minerals supply chains strained by rising global demand, but the UK strives to strengthen its domestic supply capability, as well as its supply chain farther abroad, to diversify away from the world’s predominant critical minerals producer China and markets such as Russia, which is subject to economic sanctions by Western economies, including the UK, following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Ghani says there is no quick fix to building new production and supply chains for critical minerals, as they are complex and opaque, and often concentrated in specific countries. “We cannot rely on mineral supply chains vulnerable to market shocks, geopolitical events and logistical disruptions, at a time when global demand is rising faster than ever,” she adds.
Responding to whether the UK will be averse to working with countries that may be supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ghani says the UK has sanctions against Russian entities, which speaks its priorities in the matter, and that partnerships need to be equitable to both parties.
The UK’s critical minerals strategy is aimed at improving the resilience of critical minerals supply chains, as well as ensuring that minerals are extracted in responsible ways and are supported by well-functioning and transparent markets.
In doing that, the UK wants to place itself at the forefront of the green industrial revolution, create opportunities for UK businesses and take opportunities to reduce environmental damage.
The UK has already greatly influenced global environment, social and governance investment criterion and helped establish safe and responsible mining standards, and will continue to drive these standards across its supply chain and development partners, says Ghani.