The Korea Herald


S. Korea to beef up critical metals stockpile

By Kim Byung-wook

Published : Aug. 5, 2021 - 16:15

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South Korea will drastically increase its strategic stockpiles of nickel, cobalt and other critical metals, in a bid to ensure a stable supply of raw materials vital to key industries including electric vehicle batteries and renewable energy, the government said Thursday.

National stockpiles of 35 rare metals -- designated by the government -- will increase to cover 100 days from the current 57 days, it said. New facilities will be built while some existing ones will be expanded and the state-run Korea Resources Corp. will oversee the overall management.

It is part of a set of measures announced by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy on Thursday, after a pangovernmental emergency economic meeting presided over by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki.

At the meeting, Hong expressed concern over a potential “weaponization” of rare metals, the majority of which Korea imports from overseas.

“While demand is growing fast for rare metals in line with the advancement of new industries and a carbon neutrality drive, global supply is dependent on a few countries,” the minister said.

“We urgently need a strategy.”

The move will allow Korea to mitigate uncertainties surrounding volatile supply chains of critical metals. Nearly 63 percent of rare earth elements and 83 percent of tungsten are produced in China, 70 percent of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 55 percent of white gold in the Republic of South Africa.

The Trade Ministry expects global demand of the 35 designated metals to quadruple by 2040.

“Rare metals are ‘vitamins of industry’ that determine the quality and characteristics of products and are crucial for cutting-edge and new energy industries. By securing robust supply chains of rare metals, Korea will become rare metal-proof country,” said Industry Minister Moon Sung-wook.

Included in the package announced Thursday are plans to select 100 local companies in the metals industry and provide them with various benefits and to support private projects to explore mineral deposits overseas and obtain stakes in mines.

While importing most of raw and basic materials it needs, Korea supplies a small portion from overseas mines it owns or partially owns.

Seoul’s move comes amid a global rush to secure rare earth and critical minerals, viewed as strategic items for economic security, in the face of China’s growing dominance in supply.

“The plan responds to the Executive Order on America’s Supply Chains by the United States, the Action Plan for Critical Raw Materials by the European Union and New International Resource Strategy by Japan,” a ministry official said.