Argus Media Limited

11/08/2023 | News release | Distributed by Public on 11/08/2023 05:49

Australia steps up focus on critical minerals

Critical minerals barely rated a mention during the first visit to China by an Australian prime minister in seven years, despite constant discussions about trade and investment during Anthony Albanese's current visit to Beijing. This is in stark contrast to his promotion of Australia as a supplier and developer of critical minerals during his October trip to the US.

Albanese used his visit to the US to announce a doubling of his government's spending on critical minerals mining, processing and manufacturing.

Australia is seeking to become a major source of critical minerals and replace China in supply chains that want to diversify their supply sources. Canberra is looking to the US to invest in its mining and processing capacity, while continuing to use the Australian Foreign Investment Review Board to block Chinese efforts to buy into projects. The US is looking to grant Australia tax credits under its Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

Australia is also reviewing its critical minerals list, with a close eye on similar lists of its allies in North America and Europe. The government published an issues paper in July, as it seeks to gain feedback from domestic and foreign stakeholders to ensure that its updated list better reflects trade conditions, supply chains and evolving markets.

The list currently includes "minerals that are essential to modern technologies, economies and national security, whose supply chains are vulnerable to disruption, minerals our strategic partners need, and for which Australia has potential economic geological resources", according to the Australian government. Minerals included in the list could mean regulation and policy support, along with access to funding. Australia's federal resources minister Madeleine King expects the new list to be finalised by the end of the year.

Neither nickel nor copper are included under Australia's current critical minerals list, despite being included in both the EU and the US' lists, albeit only battery-grade nickel in the case of the EU. Both are likely to be included in the revised Australian list.


The US, the fifth-largest producer of copper, has included copper into its critical minerals list as it is deemed essential to the country's economy and national security, as China and Russia are political rivals.

Australia has the world's second-largest copper reserves and is the eighth largest copper producer, exporting 3.2bn-3.8bn of copper yearly to countries worldwide including South Korea, India and China. It imports less than 80,000t (see table).


Australia's nickel production in 2024-25 is forecast to increase by 38pc from a year earlier to 214,000t, but earnings are expected to fall despite a projected increase in production and export volumes, according to the government's commodity forecaster the Office of the Chief Economist Resources and Energy Quarterly (REQ).

Australia has the largest nickel reserve with a 22pc share of the world's resources, according to the REQ.


Australia is the largest producer and exporter of zinc, with over 20mn t exported on a yearly basis, according to GTT data.

The addition of zinc into the critical minerals list will align with the goal of making sustainable cities and communities, according to a Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering submission paper. The US has included zinc in its critical minerals list in an attempt to protect its domestic supply chain.


China and India dominate production and resources for natural graphite, with only small deposits in Australia, according to Geoscience Australia. China dominates the anode industry with a 93pc share, with Beijing's implementing export restrictions on gallium and germanium, which are categories of graphite. Graphite is listed on the Australian, EU and US critical minerals list because of its criticality in anode production.

Australian emerging graphite producer Renascor is relying on the US' IRA and the Australian government to compete with China's production scale, said Renascor Resources' managing director David Christensen at the International Mining and resources Conference earlier this month. Renascor has completed its definitive feasibility study at its Siviour Graphite project, the world's second-largest proven graphite reserve.

By Meyshna Nair

Australia copper trade (t)
Total 2019 2020 2021 2022
147,990 41,801 30,185 75,989 15
Total 13,792,608 3,794,908 3,489,744 3,280,476 3,227,480
Unspecified 5,283,894 0 940,674 2,181,008 2,162,212
South Korea 1,702,514 131,138 264,862 637,048 669,466
India 907,600 328,880 100,434 295,910 182,376
Finland 136,346 0 0 72,108 64,238
Spain 147,362 0 21,304 62,628 63,430
Germany 63,500 0 21,214 0 42,286
China 3,692,226 2,051,812 1,619,226 0 21,188
Source: GTT
Australia critical minerals list
Critical minerals not on Australia's list