Zimbabwe's ban on lithium ore exports will not affect large mines, top officials say

Zimbabwe's ban on lithium ore exports will not affect large mines, top officials say
/ bne IntelliNews
By Thulani Mpofu in Harare January 4, 2023

Large companies investing in lithium mining in Zimbabwe are unbothered by a recent ban on raw exports of the mineral, saying they plan to produce concentrate, which they can freely export.

On December 20, 2022, the government announced that lithium-bearing ores could only be exported on the basis of a written permission from the minister of mines. It gave three exceptions, including rocks meant for assay abroad or lithium ore whose market value would have been determined on the basis of reference to a reputable metals exchange. 

Persons found violating the law face a fine of twice the value of the mineral they had sought to export illegally (smuggle), imprisonment for up to two years or both.

“The exportation of concentrates is not banned,” newZWire, a local publication cited Pfungwa Kunaka, permanent secretary for the ministry of mines as saying on Monday (January 2). “We are encouraging and promoting value addition and beneficiation.”

The ban, newZWire reports, does not apply to the export of lithium concentrates, which all the major lithium miners in the country already plan to produce. “It only applies to the export of lithium ore, the rocks that carry the mineral. The government does not consider concentrates as raw or unprocessed lithium,” it added.

Reports say the southern African country has the continent’s largest proven lithium reserves and the sixth biggest ones globally.  

According to Supply Management, a British title, Zimbabwe produced 1,200 tonnes of lithium in 2021, behind Brazil (1,900 tonnes), Argentina (6,200 tonnes), China (14,000 tonnes), Chile (26,000 tonnes) and Australia (55,000 tonnes).

Chinese companies such as Sinomine Resource Group, Zhenjiang Huayou Cobalt and Chengxin Lithium Group as well as London-listed Premier African Minerals (Premier) are building mines and processing plants in the country.  

Premier chief executive officer, George Roach, told newZWire: “As I understand this, the banned commodity is un-beneficiated ore. We do not plan to export ore. We plan to mine ore and then extract spodumene from the ore and export the spodumene. I do not believe this affects us at this time.” 

The ban came a few weeks after alluvial miners had descended on a former emerald mine in central Zimbabwe where they had been extracting and selling lithium rock to intermediaries who were exporting it to neighbouring South Africa.  

newZWire also cited a general manager of another major lithium company saying: “We have no problem with that law. In fact, it protects formal operations where it stops illegal miners from potentially damaging assets to sell ore. Our operation is currently building processing capacity and will have no problem complying with Zimbabwean laws.”

Supply Management had expressed fear on Tuesday (January 3) that a ban was going to cause an increase in the global lithium price.