In a visit to Brussels to take part in the European Commission’s Raw Materials Week, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Industry and Construction, Kanat Sharlapaev, explained how his country is already meeting many of the EU’s requirements for critical raw materials. He set out how, as reliable partners, Kazakhstan and the European Union, can expand that supply and strengthen trade and investment links, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.
It’s been a year since the EU and Kazakhstan agreed a strategic partnership on critical raw materials, batteries and green hydrogen. At a business forum on that strategic cooperation, Kazakh Industry Minister Kanat Sharlapaev said Kazakhstan fully supports the European Union’s aspirations for diversifying sustainable supplies of critical raw minerals and is confident that the country can make a significant contribution to achieving this goal. “Our Republic has all the necessary qualities, including the availability of raw materials, unique production capacities, and geographical proximity”, he said.
The need to take further mutually beneficial cooperation on critical raw materials was central to negotiations between the minister and European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič. Kazakhstan’s vast natural resources include lithium, chromium, uranium, barite, rhenium, zinc, lead, manganese, bauxite, copper and gold, as well as fossil fuels in the form of coal, oil and gas.
This means that as well as enabling Europe to diversify its traditional energy supplies, Kazakhstan can enable the transition to low-carbon and renewable energy, providing for example many of the materials required for the batteries that power electric vehicles. It has the capacity to produce about half of the 34 minerals considered critical to the EU.
Vice-President Šefčovič said that currently Europe is only able to cater for 1% of the global production of these materials and that this trend is only going to accelerate, with demand for lithium, for example, expected to be 12 times higher by 2030 and 21 times by 2050. Overall demand for rare earth metals is set to be five times greater by 2030 and six times by 2050.
Europe’s domestic supply will never entirely meet its needs for critical minerals, the Vice-President stated, so it must diversify external sources of supply by pursuing closer cooperation with its partners. Especially, he argued, with those which also take sustainability seriously -like Kazakhstan.
He said that Europe had a lot to offer Kazakhstan as it seeks to sustainably use its resources. It’s a world-leader in the electrification of heavy machinery to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the mining sector. Also, European businesses are developing modern airborne exploration methods for use in ‘intelligent mining’.
Vice-President Šefčovič and Minister Shalapaev witnessed the signing of two agreements between EU and Kazakh companies. The European Commission and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development also announced an agreement with Kazakhstan’s national mining company to financially support lithium exploration and the sustainable processing of tungsten.
Afterwards, Kanat Sharlapaev, said Kazakhstan is ready and committed to integrate itself into the value chain for critical raw materials. He said they are aptly named because they are especially critical to the green energy transition. His country is meeting Europe’s needs right now for copper used in electric vehicle batteries and titanium in aircraft.
The next stage required greater investment in exploration and production. Reliability and predictability are important, not just in terms of what Kazakhstan can supply but also what Europe will buy and invest in. Similarly, the development of the Middle Corridor trade route has seen heavy investment by Kazakhstan in railways and port infrastructure; what would give an additional stimulus is a commitment from European companies to use it.
“If we get long-term agreements from major European players in logistics, that will ensure long-term investment into that route”, he said. The minister also pointed out that it is more affordable to transport goods when value has been added by carrying out the manufacturing processes in Kazakhstan.
He said it is also important for European companies to look at Kazakhstan as a destination for their products, as well as a source for raw materials. Its geographical location made it the gateway to the entire Central Asian market.
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