Tokyo has embarked on a charm offensive to secure a future supply of essential electric vehicle (EV) minerals.
By Seth Onyango
Japan is staking its claim in an African Electric Vehicle (EV) mineral bonanza as it seeks to fortify its supply chain and guard against China’s ambitions on the continent.
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Early in August, Nishimura Yasutoshi, Japan’s Economy and Industry Minister visited Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Congo, Namibia, Madagascar and Angola on a whirlwind tour of Africa to secure green mining partnerships.
In each country, Nishimura met with leaders and signed agreements to cooperate on the exploration and development of cobalt, copper, nickel and other minerals that are essential for EV batteries.
State-owned resource explorer, the Japan Organisation for Metals and Energy Security, (JOGMEC), has now sealed vital MOUs with the aforementioned countries.
Japan News reported that a public-private conference on mining investment was also held in Zambia, and was attended by 11 companies, including Japanese heavyweights Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Toyota Tsusho Corp.
“There is a growing trend among resource-rich countries toward diversifying the economy and avoiding dependency on any one country,” Nishimura said at a press conference.
“We would like (to) build mutually beneficial relationships through such support as human resources development and thereby secure important minerals.”
Japan has also committed to deploying satellites to conduct surveys for mineral-rich areas in Africa.
While the details of Japan’s agreements with African nations are still emerging, early indications suggest a comprehensive approach.
This includes not only mining rights but also infrastructure development, technological collaboration, and capacity-building initiatives.
Electric vehicle minerals, particularly lithium, cobalt, and nickel, are becoming the “new gold” in the green mobility era.
Africa, home to vast reserves of these minerals, has turned into a strategic battleground for those nations aiming to fortify their EV supply chains.
While China has been aggressively establishing mining interests across Africa, Japan’s recent gambit underscores its intent to not only participate but also lead in this high-stakes game.
The move is seen by many industry experts as a strategic play to ensure Japan’s continued relevance and dominance in the global EV market.
Tokyo’s diplomatic offensive in Africa comes after Beijing, which currently dominates the global market for rare earth minerals, imposed export restrictions on some of them.
Japan is home to some of the world’s leading carmakers, such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan – all popular in Africa – which have invested heavily in developing EVs and hybrid vehicles. However, Japan faces several challenges in its quest for EV minerals in Africa.
Fierce competition from major powers includes the US and the EU, which have also launched initiatives to secure their supply chains for EV battery minerals and reduce their reliance on China, as well as Turkey and other emerging industrial powers.
China is a particularly formidable rival as it has invested heavily in mining and infrastructure projects in Africa over the past two decades.
In March this year, the first lithium concentrate plant in Africa owned by a Chinese company began trial production at Arcadia, in Zimbabwe.
The mine was acquired by Huayou Cobalt in 2021, for US$422 million, part of a recent wave of Chinese lithium deals worth billions of dollars in a country where many Western investors are reluctant to invest.
Additionally, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), China accounted for 70% of global cobalt production in 2020, with much of that originating in the DRC.