The EU is becoming overly dependent on metal imports even for basic commodities such as zinc, aluminium and copper, Europe’s non-ferrous metals body, Eurometaux, warned this week.

In 2013, Europe is expected to import more than 50% of these commodities, the secretary general of Eurometaux, Guy Thiran, told Metal Bulletin in an exclusive interview.

At the same time, the region is discouraging investment in the industry at home due to unilateral policies, such as the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS).

“This trend is both damaging [Europe’s] manufacturing industry’s value chains and creating competing value chains for the EU market, for example in the Middle East,” Thiran said.

He welcomed the recent updating of the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), which governs trade relations with developing countries, to reflect the current world order.

Countries which had previously benefited from the system, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Belarus are no longer considered poor countries after the update. “It brings a level-playing field that we welcome,” Thiran said.

This is not to say the EU should not have good partnerships with countries supplying important raw materials.

“We should establish or re-establish a strategic trading relationship for raw materials with all trading partners,” said Thiran, mentioning Russia, which produces one-fifth of the world’s nickel and 45% of the world’s palladium, and South Africa, which supplies 79% of the world’s rhodium and 77% of its platinum.

“This could be done or deepened through the relationships that European mining companies have established with countries outside the EU,” Thiran added.

While he does not fear there will be shortages of raw materials for the European non-ferrous metals industry, he does believe companies may need help to access the ores they need.

“When European companies operate on European or international markets, they are often confronted with various trade distortions used by EU trade partners […] to promote their own exports and discriminate against imports,” said Thiran, who believes access to raw materials should be part of EU trade diplomacy.

Carmen Paun