China plans to boost cobalt reserves as virus spurs supply risks

Processing facilities at Tenke Fungurume mine. (Image courtesy of Lundin Mining.)

China’s state stockpiling agency has drawn up plans to buy 2,000 tonnes of cobalt after the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the fragility of supplies of the strategic mineral.

The National Food and Strategic Reserves Administration could put its purchasing plan into action by the end of this year, according to two people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because they’re not authoriSed to speak publicly.

Cobalt prices have climbed 10% in the past month amid concerns that shipments could be affected by anti-virus measures in parts of Africa

The move is in response to supply disruptions from top producer, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and is in line with China’s future economic and strategic needs, the people said.

An official at the administration declined to comment.

Cobalt prices have climbed 10% in the past month amid concerns that shipments could be affected by anti-virus measures in parts of Africa. China’s refiners, which dominate global output, are heavily reliant on material that comes from DRC mines via ports in South Africa.

The metal is used in batteries that power electric vehicles, an industry China has deemed a strategic priority for the coming decades. While cobalt demand is set to benefit from the longer-term push toward electrification, consumption has been hurt by the global economic slump, with prices declining to nine-month lows in mid-July. 

(By Martin Ritchie and Steven Yang, with assistance from Winnie Zhu)

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