Serbia Stiffs Rio Tinto (Dominic Barton Chair) over Lithium Mine

(Caption for photo at top of the post (note also Chinese company named on banner), from a Deutsche Welle story: “Serbia’s ruling party has changed its mind about a proposed lithium mine following large protests”.)

Further to this post at which the Rio Tinto mine in mentioned,

PRC Investment, or, “hell on Earth” in Serbia

now the Balkan country stands up to at least one foreign investor–excerpts from a Reuters story:

Rio Tinto has few options to save Serbia lithium mine, none good

Rio Tinto has only bad options as it tries to salvage its US$2.4-billion Serbian lithium project after the country’s leaders bowed to environmentalists and cancelled it last week.

The Anglo-Australian miner could sue the government, a step likely to fail and further antagonize Belgrade, or bet that pro-mining politicians emerge victorious in April parliamentary elections, a result that would embolden opponents.

The mining titan has little experience charting where to go next.People inside Rio said that while they were aware of the political tensions around the project, the government’s decision to pull the plug was a surprise that left the company scrambling for a strategy on how to proceed.

With elections looming, Belgrade halted the project after widespread protests against the mine, dashing Rio’s hopes of becoming a top 10 lithium producer [emphasis added].

The miner, which said it has always complied with Serbian laws, is reviewing the legal basis for the decision…

If the decision is upheld by a new government, it could prompt Rio to walk away without taking further action, legal experts also said.

The miner has spent US$450-million already on prefeasibility and other studies, according to its project fact sheet…

The Serbian project was slated to be Europe’s biggest lithium mine, producing 58,000 tonnes of refined battery-grade lithium carbonate a year, enough to power one million electric vehicles…

In Serbia, the best case scenario is Rio Tinto gets its licences back after the April elections. The populist ruling coalition, led by the Serbian Progressive Party, has seen its 2020 election majority eroded over its backing of mining in Serbia [see post noted at start of this one]

One wonders how much of the mine’s output might have gone to China. And poor Dominic Barton, freshly minted chairman of Rio Tinto, hot off his gig as Canadian ambassador to the PRC–a post on that:

Dominic Barton, Canadian Prince of Cashing-in Compradors, and Conflict of Interest (note “UPDATE”)

Plus a post on Canada and lithium, note first “Comment”:

Why No National Security Review of Purchase by PRC SOE of Canadian Lithium Mining Company?

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

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