With Australia finding itself as one of the hardest hit from a series of protectionist measures emanating from China and the US, on whose supply chains they are so entangled, it would seem that mining is the most likely way out of the economic gloom.
The country is well known for its natural riches and is home to some of the biggest mining companies in the world. Some outback towns are notably blessed with seams of silver, lead and zinc, all of which have been used to grow Australia on the world stage, and now it seems cobalt is set to join the list of the most desired metals.
Broken Hill, set some 1000 kilometers from Sydney, is set to play host to several of the biggest mining groups as they set out to extract serious quantities of cobalt, one of the key materials in mobile devices.
Cobalt helps such devices to power up, and electric batteries for use in vehicles also rely on the natural metal. The market for it is expected to go up exponentially, rocketing up to four times its current size in just ten years’ time.
One of the main issues around cobalt sourcing that has caused much consternation among ethical and human rights groups is that it tends to come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where observers have raised concerns over how workers are being treated.
With some two-thirds of all global cobalt supplies stemming from the African country, there is a clear demand to be able to get it from elsewhere, a move which could no doubt help some of the bigger electronic giants to shout about better credentials of their products.
The chief executive of Cobalt Blue, a mining company on the ASX, said there were a lot of contentious issues with getting cobalt from DR Congo. Joe Kaderavek said there were unpredictable politics, ‘logistical challenges’ and ‘a question mark over the efficacy of the 10 to 15% of cobalt produced there from artisanal sources.’
Kaderavek said Australia was becoming a key player in the market, thanks to the ‘stability’ the nation can offer, and said their cobalt sources were becoming more popular with ‘Asian battery makers.’
There are now several smaller mining businesses looking to operate out of Broken Hill and elsewhere, with Canada also being one of the key countries with a natural supply. The levels of cobalt being taken from DR Congo are considered unsustainable as it is thought to be accountable for up to 75% of all supply in 2019. Part of this is because China currently owns a lot of mines in the African nation, and they are one of the biggest manufacturers of smartphones in the world. Unless this changes, there are unlikely to be big developments in the mining picture, but it does open up new avenues for businesses.
The likes of Rio Tinto had already spoken of trying to diversify their offering into more sustainable and ethical sourcing of certain metals and resources, including launching their own accredited label to make it easier for enterprises to find out what aspects are affecting their supply chain.
While DR Congo are aware of their vast resources, they have also been upping the taxes on overseas distribution recently, including one instance that caused Glencore to write off a substantial $5.6billion worth of debt to safeguard one of their ventures. More stability in Australia could well entice investors over.