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Brazilian front-runner makes niobium nationalism an election issue

by Greg Klein | October 25, 2018

Whether he’s just another politician on the wrong side of the culture wars or a dangerous demagogue as portrayed by those claiming the correct side, Jair Bolsonaro’s considered the top contender in Brazil’s October 28 presidential vote. One of his less controversial policies involves resource nationalism, specifically regarding niobium.

Brazilian front-runner makes niobium nationalism an election issue

Brandishing a chunk of the stuff in a 2016 YouTube presentation,
Jair Bolsonaro calls on Brazil to enhance a vertically integrated
niobium supply chain to support economic independence.

Bolsonaro calls for Brazil, by far the world’s top producer of the critical metal, to enhance a vertically integrated supply chain for maximum economic gain, according to Reuters. He also opposes a Chinese company mining his country’s reserves, the news agency adds.

Last year Brazil provided 89% of world niobium supply, with Canada ranking second at less than 10%, U.S. Geological Survey data shows. Used in steels and superalloys, niobium’s a vital element to jet engine components, rocket sub-assemblies, and heat-resisting and combustion equipment, the USGS adds. Niobium comprises one of 35 critical elements in an American list drafted last February and confirmed in May.

Most Brazilian supply comes from the Araxa mine complex owned by Companhia Brasileira de Metalurgia e Mineração. But CBMM’s near-monopoly diminished in 2016, when China Molybdenum Co Ltd got Brazil’s Boa Vista niobium complex in a US$1.5-billion purchase from Anglo American. That made China Molybdenum the world’s second-biggest niobium producer, thanks to Brazilian resources and much to Bolsonaro’s ire.

In Reuters’ account of a TV interview last August, he said, “It’s something only we have, we should invest in technology and research to use this mineral. Instead we sell and deliver the mine to them.”

The Chinese are not buying in Brazil. They are buying Brazil.—Jair Bolsonaro

As the Middle Kingdom acquires energy infrastructure as well as resources across Brazil, the South China Morning Post quotes a common Bolsonaro refrain: “The Chinese are not buying in Brazil. They are buying Brazil.”

Chinese diplomats have twice met with Bolsonaro’s aides, hoping to smooth relations with the likely leader, the SCMP states. Requests to meet the candidate himself have so far been spurned.

An open letter signed by Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and several others says Bolsonaro “threatens the world, not just Brazil’s fledgling democracy.”

But the country might face other threats as well. Government data released in August shows 63,880 murders last year, a 3% increase over 2016 and a rate of 175 murders per day.

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