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Philippine miners not keen on Indonesia nickel alliance plan

A plan by top nickel miner Indonesia to create an OPEC-like group to coordinate supply would not benefit the Philippines, the No. 2 producer, according to an industry group.

The Philippines mined a 10th of the in-demand metal that’s used in electric vehicle batteries last year, according to the US Geological Survey, and mainly exports nickel ore to China. That’s well behind Indonesia, which accounted for almost half of global output, and floated the idea of a producer alliance late last year.

“If prices of raw materials go up, then they will feed into prices of finished products, which we import, and it will hurt us so much,” Dante Bravo, president of the Philippine Nickel Industry Association, said in an interview. “I’m not a believer in a controlled market.”

Indonesian Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia said last month that he plans to travel to major nickel producers including Australia, Brazil and the Philippines to promote the alliance. He may face an uphill battle though, given that a major mining association in Australia and Canada’s trade minister have also said they’re not keen on the idea. The other main miners of the metal are a diverse bunch including Russia, New Caledonia and China.

Indonesia’s nickel plan is part of President Joko Widodo’s goal of adding more value domestically and becoming a key part of the battery supply chain. The country, along with Australia, also has the largest reserves of the metal, with Brazil not far behind. Prices for nickel, which is also used to make stainless steel, have rise by around two-thirds so far this decade as EV demand surged.

Jakarta’s ban on exports of metal ores in 2020 boosted the value of its nickel shipments to $30 billion from $3 billion in two years as Chinese companies built refineries and smelters there. The Philippines is considering following in Indonesia’s footsteps by taxing nickel ore exports to lure investment in processing plants.

However, the Philippines’ nickel is of a lower quality than Indonesia’s and it has far smaller reserves, meaning it would be more difficult to attract funds, Bravo said on Monday. The country should instead focus on enhancing cooperation between its mainly small-scale miners to set up processing facilities, and expanding the areas where companies are allowed to explore, he said.

The alliance being promoted by Indonesia would only be of interest to the Philippines if it was focused on the sharing of best practices and technology and deploying resources more efficiently, Bravo said. — Bloomberg

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