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EU Policy. Commissioner touts imminent agreement with Serbia on raw materials

Hundreds of Serbian eco protesters opposed to lithium mining blocked roads near a government, February 2022. building
Hundreds of Serbian eco protesters opposed to lithium mining blocked roads near a government, February 2022. building Copyright Darko Vojinovic/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Darko Vojinovic/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Marta Pacheco
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Last legal hurdles are being discussed before an EU-Serbia trade partnership to source lithium from the Jadar region comes to fruition.


An official trade partnership to source critical raw materials from Serbia is looming with negotiations at the final stages of legal wrangling, Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič told Euronews during a high-level event in Brussels.

The trade deal between the EU and Serbia has been cooking for a while with the signing of a letter of intent last September — to strengthen and expand cooperation on critical raw materials and electric vehicles value chains — a clear signal that the EU executive and Belgrade were keen to join forces, provided that environmental and social acceptance challenges around the prospective mining region were sorted out.

On the sidelines of the EIT Raw Materials Summit held in Brussels this week Šefčovič referred to Serbia’s “unique position” in relation minerals listed in the EU’s Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA), such as high-quality lithium, which he referred to as “one of the best in the world”.

“I hope that in a short period of time we will be able to finalise the text of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU),” Šefčovič told Euronews, adding that current discussions with the Serbian government are focused on extraction, processing, refining and use of lithium.

“All I can say at this stage is that there is a positive development. There were some legal issues in the past, which are now being discussed between the company and the government,” said Šefčovič.

While the Slovak Commissioner didn’t refer specifically to the Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto’s operations in Serbia, the giant mining company has been trying to renew an environmental permit to operate in the Jadar area, known for its rich lithium deposits, having seen its license revoked in January 2022 following ardent opposition from environmental groups and local residents.

Šefčovič said the EU executive is in close contact with the Serbian government and has been assisting it to make sure that all the environmental impact assessments will be dealt with to the “highest European standards”.

“I hope we’ll see the next development in that project, but it’s of course a decision for the Serbian government,” added the Commissioner.

Chad Blewitt, managing director of the Jadar project at Rio Tinto, said the company will release a 2000-page environmental impact assessment in the summer.

The Anglo-Australian group said it is currently waiting for a decision from the Serbian government and expressed hopes to go ahead with the project — expected to deliver 58,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate per year, enough to power one million electric vehicles.

“We have nothing to hide, we know we will bring the highest environmental standards and we will support the communities that will come to monitor us,” Blewitt told Euronews.

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