Congo seeks outside advice on imposing cobalt export curbs

The Mutanda copper-cobalt mine, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Source: YouTube

The Democratic Republic of Congo, the top cobalt producer, is sounding out advice from international industry organizations over measures to raise the battery metal’s price, including through potential export quotas.

It’s the latest attempt by the country — which supplies about 75% of the world’s cobalt — to try to gain greater control of crucial minerals. Cobalt prices have plunged by two-thirds since mid-2022 as global supply races ahead of demand. In a ministerial meeting in February, President Felix Tshisekedi bemoaned the slump caused by a glut amid excessive supplies from Congo.

At that meeting, he asked then-Prime Minister Sama Lukonde to look at “the necessity of introducing export quotas” or any other steps to achieve a “fair price” for cobalt, with a regulatory body directed to help devise possible plans, minutes show.

That body is now seeking views from overseas industry and research organizations about potential policies, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified. A proposal will be submitted to the next government being formed following Tshisekedi’s re-election, the people said.

cobalt price

Work on potential reforms has continued despite being slowed by the dissolution of Lukonde’s administration in February, the people said. The cabinet of new Prime Minister Judith Suminwa Tuluka needs to be appointed and sworn in before any new regulations can be adopted.

State officials involved in the mining industry are divided on whether to introduce export restrictions. Some see it as a necessary response to oversupply, while others fear it could make cobalt less attractive to use in batteries, people familiar with the matter said.

The measures are being considered at a time when electric vehicle batteries that don’t contain cobalt are becoming more popular. Still, the EV sector is expected to account for 62% of cobalt demand by the start of the next decade, up from a third in 2023, specialist trading house Darton Commodities said in February.

Businesses in the cobalt supply chain — from miners and refineries to battery factories and automakers – are likely to closely watch the deliberations. CMOC Group Ltd. is the biggest cobalt producer, followed by Glencore Plc and Eurasian Resources Group.

CMOC and Glencore declined to comment on the possible measures, while spokespeople for Tshisekedi and ERG didn’t respond to requests for comment.

(By William Clowes and Michael J. Kavanagh)

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