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Regulatory overhaul needed for domestic mineral processing

THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said it is working towards establishing a domestic mineral processing industry to tap the potential of Philippine metals for the burgeoning electric vehicle (EV) industry.

Dita Angara-Mathay, DTI commercial counselor and special trade representative to Tokyo, said in a recent virtual briefing after the Japan visit of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. that the DTI is pushing for more domestic ore processing to move the Philippines into more high-value activities like battery production for EVs.

“The aspiration of the DTI is that we will find it in our regulations to stop the direct sale of ore because that’s a depletable resource, and only encourage new entrants if they invest in processing the ore into high value-added products. That doesn’t only apply to nickel but also copper, etc. So, we have to move up the value chain,” Ms. Angara-Mathay said.  

“They should also bring the processing technology so that our ore can be used in batteries ahead of the surge in demand for EVs. That’s what we really want,” she added.

Ms. Angara-Mathay said the DTI is convincing mineral processors Coral Bay Nickel Corp. and Taganito HPAL Nickel Corp. to consider higher-value activities.  Both companies are Philippine units of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd.

Coral Bay and Taganito are hydrometallurgical nickel processing plants that utilize high-pressure acid leaching, which converts low-grade nickel lateritic ores into nickel and cobalt mixed sulfide. The mixed sulfide is an intermediate product that is further refined for use in special steels, electric materials, and battery materials.

“What we really want to do is to convince them to migrate the processing to even higher value-added stages of the production chain to include, hopefully, the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries,” she said. 

“We’re hoping that since our mining regulations are getting clear. I think we’re waiting for more details from those regulators or authorities who actually oversee exploration and processing,” she added.

Ms. Angara-Mathay also disclosed that the DTI has already identified companies that should be working with the Philippines in processing its metals into batteries.

However, she said that there has been no interest from these companies as they are waiting for policies from relevant government authorities.

“We’re just hoping that some of these people will come in and be brought in after we have a very clear-cut policy that we announce from the relevant authorities. So right now, nobody has expressed any interest,” Ms. Angara-Mathay said.

Trade Assistant Secretary Glenn G. Peñaranda said that the DTI has formed a technical working group (TWG) to look into the possible policy changes to boost mineral processing investments.

“The TWG started last year. We looked at what Indonesia was doing. I think very soon, there should be a recommendation from the TWG. Today, some of the bigger users, particularly China, are really scrambling to secure their supply of the green metals. I think there is market pressure in a way to secure the minerals. The sooner we can make a decision, the better so it is clear,” he added.

Indonesia froze nickel ore exports last year in a bid to do more domestic processing.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau said in December that the value of Philippine metallic mineral output in the first nine months of 2022 rose 29.21% to P175.61 billion. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

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