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Japan seeks stronger ties with Africa on critical minerals during METI visit


Nishimura to visit Namibia, Angola, Congo, Zambia, Madagascar

Japan aims for cooperation on copper, nickel, lithium, rare earths

  • Author
  • Meghan Gordon    Takeo Kumagai
  • Editor
  • Adithya Ram
  • Commodity
  • Metals Shipping

Japan aims to lay the groundwork for boosting investment in African critical minerals during a five-country visit by Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yasutoshi Nishimura.

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Nishimura will visit Namibia, Angola, Congo, Zambia and Madagascar over Aug. 6-13, METI said Aug. 1. He is expected to hold bilateral meetings with presidents and mineral resources ministers with an eye on acquiring resources and promoting investments.

The visit aims to lead Japanese companies' participation in African mineral exploration and production by building long-term cooperation through signing joint statements, holding business forums and the Japan Organization for Metals and Energy Security, known as JOGMEC, signing memoranda of understanding, METI said.

Japan's critical mineral diplomacy is part of its efforts to enhance supply chains of essential commodities and materials as it accelerates decarbonization and bolsters economic security.

In Namibia, Nishimura will propose cooperating on formulating a rare earth industry master plan for the country and holding a minerals seminar in Japan.

In Angola, Nishimura plans to sign a joint statement with the economy and planning minister in the areas of trade and investment to support Japanese businesses.

In cobalt-dominant Congo, Nishimura will propose JOGMEC's exploration of minerals like copper and lithium, and propose sending a Japanese corporate delegation to the country.

Congo was responsible for 73.3% of global cobalt production in 2022 and 10.1% of copper output, according to S&P Global Commodity Insights data.

In Zambia, Nishimura plans to propose JOGMEC's exploration of minerals such as copper and nickel. A delegation of Japanese companies will hold a Japan-Zambia roundtable discussion to explore further business cooperation.

Zambia produced 3.4% of global cobalt output in 2022 and 4.0% of global copper output, according to S&P Global data.

In Madagascar, Nishimura is expected to call for cooperation on the Ambatovy nickel project, in which Japan's Sumitomo holds a majority stake. Ambatovy is Africa's largest-producing nickel mine and had the tenth-highest nickel output in the world in 2022 at 40,800 mt, according to S&P Global data.

Zambia and Namibia have banned the export of unprocessed ores to secure greater value for their resources and avoid a repeat of the surge in exports of direct-shipping lithium ore seen in late 2022, according to Alice Yu, senior analyst at S&P Global.

Global demand is expected to soar for lithium, nickel, cobalt and other metals needed for batteries and electrification technologies. Supply chains to bring the commodities to market face numerous challenges, and refining capacity is heavily concentrated in a few countries.

Critical mineral supply chains were a key topic when G7 energy and environment ministers met in Japan in April and agreed to boost cooperation in the area.

"We believe an increase in dependency on specific countries [for critical minerals] would aggravate vulnerability of economic security. We also see moves for resource nationalism in some countries pose risks for a resource-importing country like Japan," Ryo Minami, then deputy commissioner for international affairs and director-general for international policy on carbon neutrality at METI's Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, told S&P Global May 26.