Written evidence submitted by The Minor
Metals Trade Association (SIM 20)|
The Minor Metals Trade Association (MMTA) was established
in 1973 and is the leading international business organisation
promoting the minor metals, ferro-alloys and rare earth elements
industry as a whole. Today the MMTA is the world's largest industry
body dedicated to these strategically important metals.
The MMTA is dedicated to enhancing membership value
and promoting the use of and trade in the metals its members are
involved in. At the heart of the MMTA are its Members: producers,
consumers, traders, warehouses & forwarders, samplers &
assayers and financial, information and legal services, all of
whom have an important part to play in the smooth running of the
minor metal industry. We have 150 member companies in 30 countries
and our industry has a collective annual worth of more than 10
1. Is there a global shortfall in the supply
and availability of strategically important metals essential to
the production of advanced technology in the UK?
Those strategically important metals that have historically
been called "minor" metals are reaching maturity; industrially,
economically and politically. The UK is one of the world's leaders
of advanced technologies that consume these elements.
Strategically important metals (minor metals) are
often by-products of base metals (such as copper, aluminium and
zinc) and therefore their production is not as responsive to changes
in price which is the normal way for market conditions to reflect
supply and demand of commodities.
In Europe at present, whilst on the one hand the
EU are looking to promote strategic raw materials in REACH they
are simultaneously creating de facto import tariffs which are
destroying the industry for strategic raw materials in Europe.
REACH [Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction
of Chemical substances] legislation adds bureaucratic costs to
every strategically important metal produced or imported into
Europe in quantities of over one tonne per year. REACH, unintentionally,
has been a highly destructive regulation and it is not even fully
2. How vulnerable is the UK to a potential
decline or restriction in the supply of strategically important
metals? What should the Government be doing to safeguard against
this and to ensure supplies are produced ethically?
Barring force majeure it seems unlikely that production
of these metals will decline on a global scale given overall growth
in mining and mining investment of recent years. There are a small
number of metals whose use is being phased out, such as mercury
and cadmium, as they can be highly toxic in uncontrolled environments.
Restrictions for political reasons are matters for
the UK government to ease through diplomacy. Particular attention
should be given to those elements with a high Herfindahl Hirshman
Index (HHI), for example gallium, germanium and antimony.
3. How desirable, easy and cost-effective
is it to recover and recycle metals from discarded products? How
can this be encouraged? Where recycling currently takes place,
what arrangements need to be in place to ensure it is done cost-effectively,
safely and ethically?
It is highly desirable to obtain the maximum possible
benefit from the potential to recycle minor metals. Secondary
production of minor metals from recycling ('urban mining') is
a major growth area for MMTA members, despite the fact that many
minor metals are consumed in dissipative uses and cannot be recovered.
Recycling could be assisted through streamlining
WEEE regulations and orientating them to be supportive of the
industry, especially keeping in mind the REACH regulations which
cover the finished goods.
4. Are there substitutes for those metals
that are in decline in technological products manufactured in
the UK? How can these substitutes be more widely applied?
Many minor metals are employed for their elemental
properties (for example rhenium allows jet engines to burn at
higher temperatures) which are very difficult to find in substitutes.
There are some applications where you'd be hard-pressed to find
substitutes, for example certain uses of cobalt where there are
particular characteristics that, to some degree, are irreplaceable
without sacrificing performance qualities of the end product.
On the other hand, the picture is constantly changing with new
technological advances and whilst cobalt's participation in the
mobile power business at one stage was viewed as irreplaceable,
today there are alternatives.
When considering the use of substitutes it would
be negligent not to include due diligence analysis of whether
those substitute components have similar sourcing and ethical
problems to the materials they replace.
5. What opportunities are there to work internationally
on the challenge of recovering, recycling and substituting strategically
International standards on the movement and disposal
of recycling feedstock would help create a level playing field
for European and UK industry. Attention should be given to alleviating
the unintended negative impact that REACH legislation is having
on UK industry.
This inquiry is a step in the right direction for
the UK government, both in terms of raising its own awareness
and in building bridges with industry. However, there is still
a long way to go if the UK wants to become the global leader in
the secondary production of minor metals.
The Minor Metals Trade Association
26 January 2011