Critical minerals agreements and trade agreements

Critical minerals, such as lithium, cobalt and nickel, are essential for technologies like electric cars, solar panels and rechargeable batteries. These are  needed in the transition from a fossil-fuel based economy to a low-carbon one. Australia, the US and other countries are trying to diversify their sources of critical minerals away from dependence on China.

The Labor government’s June 2023 Critical Minerals Strategy outlines the role of critical minerals in the transition to renewable energy, the need to diversify global sources of critical minerals, and the need to develop mining, value-added processing and other related industries in Australia. It also makes commitments to the involvement of Indigenous people in decision-making, and to high environmental and labour standards.

‘Business as usual’ mining practices for critical minerals threatens to undermine Indigenous peoples’ rights

9 October, 2023: Last week the Philippine Supreme Court ordered two mining companies to cease operations at a nickel mine and ordered concerns raised by the Pala’wan Indigenous community be addressed. The Pala’wan community have fought since 2005 against plans to mine nickel in an environmentally protected area of cultural significance.

Critical minerals, such as nickel, lithium, cobalt, copper and rare earths, are essential for technologies needed for a green transition, such as wind turbines, electricity infrastructure and batteries. However, the boom in demand and rush to mine has led to concerns that critical mineral mining will continue the association of extractive industries with human rights violations, particularly for indigenous peoples.

Potential US-Indonesia critical minerals agreement prompts backlash over Indonesia’s poor environmental and human rights record

30 October, 2023: The US, concerned with reliance on imports from China amid growing global demand for critical minerals, has been aggressively developing its critical mineral supply chains over the last years. However, a bipartisan group of senators have recently criticised the Biden administration for pursuing a critical mineral deal with Indonesia. They argue that Indonesia’s poor labour and environmental record should preclude it from a special trading relationship with the US.

Pressure for EU critical minerals investment must not risk indigenous rights, labour rights and the environment

4 October, 2023: Australian Resource Minister, Madeline King, commented last week that the EU might “miss the boat” on securing Australian critical minerals, amping up tensions in current EU-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations. Her comments come despite calls from experts to take a more deliberative approach to critical minerals that considers the potential risks to Indigenous peoples, labour rights and the environment.

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