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China’s domestic and foreign influence in the global cobalt supply chain

April 28, 2019

In addition to increasing interest in the supply risk of minerals produced in China, there is also concern that China’s efforts to mitigate mineral supply risk—through foreign direct investment—may limit mineral availability for other countries in the short-term (due to production capacity constraints). However, little is publicly known about the quantity of global mineral production that is subject to Chinese ownership-influence or how this influence may mitigate China’s import reliance for mineral commodities. In this analysis, we estimate China’s ownership-share of foreign production for cobalt mine and intermediate materials (in the year 2016), as well as the net import reliance of China’s cobalt refinery industry—which is then adjusted to reflect China’s ownership-share of foreign production. First, we find that China’s foreign cobalt ownership is predominantly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the largest source of cobalt mine and intermediate imports for China’s growing cobalt refinery industry. Second, foreign direct investment provided China with ownership-influence over roughly 29% of its cobalt mine and intermediate imports in 2016—which may have reduced the exposure of China’s refinery industry to supply risk from a net import reliance of 97% (on cobalt mine and intermediate materials) to an adjusted net import reliance of 68%. Third, China’s global production share jumps from 2% to 14% (for cobalt mine material) and from 11% to 33% (for cobalt intermediate material) when China’s foreign ownership production share is added to China’s domestic production share. Fourth, over time China’s foreign direct investment appears to have targeted facilities with progressively larger cobalt production capacities. Finally, China’s global production share increases as cobalt material moves downstream (i.e. mine, 14%; intermediate, 33%; refined, 50% in 2016). If a primary motivation of China’s Going Out Strategy is to secure natural resources, then China’s global production share may be reserved for Chinese manufacturers. This analysis may, therefore, indicate that critical mineral availability and supply risk (for countries other than China) may not be confined to minerals produced in China.

Publication Year 2019
Title China’s domestic and foreign influence in the global cobalt supply chain
DOI 10.1016/j.resourpol.2019.03.015
Authors Andrew L. Gulley, Erin McCullough, Kim Shedd
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Resources Policy
Index ID 70203966
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Mineral Resources Program; National Minerals Information Center