Don’t let the Chinese buy up Canada’s strategic minerals… in Argentina. That’s what Eric Reguly argued in Saturday’s Globe and Mail.
“The West is asleep while China hoards key minerals”, blared the front page of the Report on Business. Reguly complained that Zijin Mining recently paid $960 million for Vancouver-based Neo Lithium, which extracts a mineral important in batteries that power electric vehicles. Six hundred words into the story the Globe reporter let slip “the Canadian company’s vast lithium project is located in northwestern Argentina”. How dare the Chinese take our Argentinian resources!
Usually among the more reasonable Globe business writers, Reguly also denounced the Chinese purchasing ‘our’ minerals in the Congo. The New York Times recently published a series of front page articles about the Chinese acquiring North American minerals in the Congo.
Reguly is apparently untroubled by Canadian-based or listed firms operating about 4,000 mineral projects abroad. A Canadian must be incredibly ignorant or chauvinistic to complain about another country dominating world minerals. With barely 0.5% of global population, Canada is home to about 75% of the world’s mining companies. In a sign of the scope of the resource imperialism, a slew of firms based in Toronto or Vancouver have names like Tanzanian Royalty Exploration, African Aura Resources, East Africa Metals, African Gold Group and International African Mining Gold (IAMGOLD).
The Report on Business regularly reports on Congolese, Argentinian, Mexican etc. minerals exchanged between Canadian firms. On Monday its website reported on Vancouver-based Lundin paying $625 million for the Josemaria mine in Argentina from a sister Vancouver company. There’s never any mention that it might be a sign of imperialism when Toronto or Vancouver firms regularly sell minerals in Mali or Peru to other Canadian firms.
In Canada and elsewhere natural resources should be in the hands of local communities or provincial and national governments. Mining destroys ecosystems and increasingly minerals should simply be kept in the ground.
Last week protesters damaged the legislature building in the Argentinian province of Chubut after a 20-year ban on ecologically damaging open pit mining was lifted under pressure from Canadian firms, notably Vancouver-based Pan American Silver. Blockades by environmentalists and indigenous Mapuche-Tehuelche forced the government to announce a plebiscite on the issue.
(Argentina highlights another aspect of the hypocritical criticism of China. Beijing is often criticized for loaning money for infrastructure projects that countries have difficulty repaying. In 2018 the US-led International Monetary Fund put up $50 billion to boost right-wing Argentinian President Mauricio Macri after he repaid US vulture funds. Now the IMF is forcing a left-wing government to repay money that was used to help the Argentine right fight elections against it.)
Of course, there are legitimate concerns about any country dominating important minerals. Many African and Latin American countries quite rightly worry about Canada’s dominance in the mining sector, for example. But a Canadian reporter complaining to a business audience about a Chinese firm buying a Canadian firm’s minerals in Argentina reflects extreme arrogance and chauvinism. And a huge blind spot when it comes to seeing the world through the eyes of anyone but members of the Canadian ruling class. Not to mention a failure to see the irony of his argument.