BRIEFING: Critical raw materials in EU external policies: Improving access and raising global standards

(Source: EU Parliament)

Lithium and cobalt (used in rechargeable batteries) and rare earth elements (used in wind turbines) are some of the critical raw materials (CRMs) – raw materials of critical importance – for the EU. Global demand for CRMs is rising, yet the export restrictions imposed by the resource-rich countries intensify the competition for these materials. To boost its access to CRMs, the EU has a dedicated strategy based on three pillars: two internal ones (increasing domestic sourcing and circularity) and an external one, which is mostly about securing supply from third countries. The external pillar of the EU CRMs policy is implemented across a number of other policies, mainly that on trade and development. It also involves deploying raw materials diplomacy. Through its trade policy, the EU seeks to implement its priorities by eliminating trade barriers through bilateral, regional and multilateral agreements, and safeguarding its interests through more assertive tools such as WTO dispute settlement and trade defence instruments. Through its development policy, the EU seeks to secure and diversify its access to CRMs, while promoting sustainable standards, good governance and responsible sourcing. It is also advancing its agenda through international fora (e.g. the UN and the OECD) and dialogues with numerous partners. The EU has also passed laws that help to make global supply chains and finance in the extractive sectors more transparent. In 2020, the European Commission adopted a CRMs action plan mostly based on existing strands of external action. It introduces several novel ideas, notably launching new strategic partnerships with both developed and developing nations, which are focused on extraction, processing and refining of CRMs. In its recent strategies, the EU has also clearly indicated its interest in greening the supply chains and achieving open strategic autonomy as regards CRMs. The success of these will also depend on global cooperation, adequate funding and reconciling differences with resource-rich countries.

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