EU agrees mineral supply targets to cut reliance on China

Negotiators for EU governments and lawmakers reached a deal on Monday on targets for domestic supply of critical minerals such as lithium and nickel to reduce its reliance on third countries, principally China.

The European Commission proposed the Critical Raw Materials Act in March, a centrepiece of EU strategy to allow it to compete with the United States and China in making clean tech products.

The proposal said the European Union should extract 10%, recycle 15% and process 40% of its annual needs by 2030 for 16 “strategic raw materials”.

The European Parliament and the Council, the grouping of EU governments, needed to agree on a common text. They did this on Monday, parties from both sides said, paving the way for the law to enter force in early 2024.

Negotiators upgraded the recycling target to at least 25%. Parliament negotiators also said the European Commission would pass a related act in 2027 that set a recycling target related to annual waste collected, rather than consumption.

The negotiators also agreed to add aluminium to the list of strategic raw materials as well as synthetic graphite. Natural graphite was already in the list.

The latter inclusion reflects China’s plan to tighten export controls for graphite. China refines over 90% of the world’s graphite into material that is used in almost all electric vehicle anodes, the negatively charged portion of the battery.

The EU is also heavily reliant on China for rare earths and lithium, other vital materials for its green transition.

The act’s aim is that no third country should provide more than 65% of any strategic raw material, which also includes cobalt, copper, magnesium and titanium.

The act sets time limits on granting permits for strategic mining, recycling and processing projects, and requires large companies needing strategic materials in key technologies to do regular risk assessments of their supply chains.

It also has provisions designed to moderate consumption.

EU industry chief Thierry Breton said in a statement that, without action, Europe risked shortages and unwanted dependencies, and that the law would ensure high environmental and social standards.

The bloc will work with EU members to identify strategic projects that will benefit from shorter and more efficient permitting procedures and easier access to finance, he added.

(By Foo Yun Chee and Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by David Goodman, Jan Harvey and Jonathan Oatis)