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US talks often with Congo’s Gecamines on cobalt and copper

THE United States speaks regularly with the Democratic Republic of Congo’s state miner Gecamines, a senior State Department official told Reuters, as Washington seeks to deepen relationships with key suppliers of cobalt and copper across the African continent.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT

Chinese aggressive investment across Congo, Zambia and elsewhere in Africa – which holds massive supplies of minerals used to make electric vehicles and other electronics – has for some time raised concern in Washington.

Jose Fernandez, the U.S. State Department’s under-secretary for economic growth, energy, and the environment, said in an interview this week that conversations with Gecamines centre on supply deals and potential new mines or other projects the company is considering. Conversations take place on average every four to six weeks, he said.

The Mineral Security Partnership (MSP), a multinational collaboration of more than a dozen countries and the European Union to invest in a global supply chain, announced a deal with Gecamines and Japan’s JOGMEC in February. That deal was a product of those conversations, Fernandez said.

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KEY QUOTES

“Be it China or anybody else, it’s just not good to have one single supplier of anything,” Fernandez said.

“(Host countries) do not want an investment system where investors bring in their own workforce, do not clean up their environmental damage. They’ve experienced that and that’s not what they want.”

Fernandez declined to comment on whether the U.S. government would seek to buy all or part of Canadian miner First Quantum’s Zambian assets. First Quantum has been seeking fresh sources of cash amid an unrelated dispute with Panama’s government that closed one of the company’s key copper mines.

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CONTEXT

Fernandez said that the United States continues to work with Zambia and Congo on mining and regulatory structures.

Despite Washington’s efforts in recent years, the United States has lagged behind China in securing access to minerals across the African continent needed for the production of products like EV batteries and solar panels.

Washington’s goal is not to offset China’s influence in Africa’s critical mineral sector but to diversify its own supply chains and encourage African partners to boost their mining standards, Fernandez said.

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By DAPHNE PSALEDAKIS and ERNEST SCHEYDER

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