The Philippines is going to increase exports of processed nickel ore as part of the country’s plan to meets its economic and social goals by 2028, its trade and industry chief said on Monday.
Trade and industry secretary Alfredo Pascual told an audience at the launch event of the country’s latest five-year development plan that a move to prioritise exporting the processed mineral to overseas markets aligns the Philippines to potential opportunities arising from “reconfigured global value chains” driven by changing geopolitics, which he believes the country will need to tap on.
The Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2023-2028 maps out its medium-term socioeconomic development agenda. Its previous plan did not mention nickel production.
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Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, developing markets like the Philippines and Indonesia have become alternative go-to sources for Western buyers keen on sourcing nickel, a major component of lithium-ion batteries found in electric vehicles (EVs). European nations used to buy the mineral largely from Russia.
In his address, Pascual further signalled that the Philippines is looking at eventually producing and exporting its own EV batteries. He said the plan included looking into processing nickel ore into “semi-finished and finished products”.
A week before, Pascual said the department was considering banning raw nickel ore exports as an option to push miners in the world’s second-biggest supplier of the metal to invest in processing instead of just shipping raw minerals. The strategy models that of top nickel producer Indonesia.
The Philippines produced 22.5 million dry metric tonnes (dmt) of nickel ore in January to September last year, valued at US$859 million, compared with 27.2 million dmt in the same period in 2021, according to latest data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau. The PDP did not set specific targets for nickel processing and exports by the end of the decade.
In response to Eco-Business’s queries, a department spokesperson said it will focus next on driving investments into nickel processing activities that directly support global EV production, so that the country gets added value from its exports.
Similarly, Indonesia announced in April last year that it was going to move away from exporting raw ore, and focus instead on developing its downstream industries.
The country had said it hoped to transform raw nickel into higher end products like lithium batteries for electric cars — a move its investment board said will eventually bring economic growth.
Nickel mining: profitable but contentious
New nickel mining agreements may reopen the door to investments that will boost state coffers but the issue is also a contentious one.
On Monday, communities living on a biodiversity-rich island in the Philippines called for the suspension of mining exploration activities in the area, saying the extraction of nickel ore will disrupt the island’s intact ecosystems as well as local livelihoods.
Residents living near a mining site operated by the Altai Mining Company at Sibuyan Island in Romblon added that the mining firm has not secured the necessary permits and documents for its activities.
Three months before, anti-mining advocates also called on the government to terminate the contract of nickel mining firm San Roque Metals Inc. in Agusan del Norte, Mindanao.
The firm is alleged to have not compensated farmers and fisherfolks in the community, hence violating a signed memorandum of understanding. Other allegations include mining on private property without the knowledge and consent of the owners of the property.
Jaybee Garganera, national coordinator of Alyansa Tigil Mina, a coalition of anti-mining groups, said the groups recognise the importance of the energy transition drive, but want the government to be clearer about its definition of a “just energy transition” and how mineral production in the country contributes to it.
“This means that mining needs to be a part of a system that will ensure that everyone benefits from the production and deployment of renewable energy, without harming the environment and communities who are hosting or providing the raw materials for renewable energy technologies,” Garganera said.
“The Marcos government must listen to the affected communities and the local governments who are opposing more mining projects here in the Philippines. Otherwise, we will witness the continued degradation of our forests and water resources from destructive practices of mining.”