The Strategist

Serbia refuses lithium mining with Rio Tinto

01/21/2022 - 04:57

The Serbian government has officially abandoned a project with Australian-British Rio Tinto to mine lithium in the northwest of the country, plans for which have sparked massive environmental protests, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić said.

Serbia's president said in late December that the project would not be withdrawn under the threat of more protests, but that it was not moving forward either. Protests in the country have continued.

"The government at today's meeting cancelled the decision and the plan of the special purpose area for the jadarite mineral extraction and processing project from February 13, 2020," Brnabić said after the Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

According to her, the contract with Rio Tinto has not been concluded, and the decision on the formation of a working group for the implementation of the project from 2021 has also been withdrawn.

"By doing so, we have fulfilled all the demands of the environmental protests and put a stop to Rio Tinto in Serbia. Thus, everything regarding the project and Rio Tinto is over," the prime minister stressed.

The Serbian president and government recalled the expropriation bill from the Assembly (parliament) on 8 December for revision and proposed amendments to the referendum law. The assembly then passed the amendments by a majority of 193 votes (out of 250 MPs) of the ruling coalition. According to Vučić, "the protesters have no reason to make environmental demands.

The country's authorities have previously said many times that they would only allow Rio Tinto to exploit lithium deposits after the referendum. The deposits of the mineral jadarite (lithium and sodium borosilicate with hydroxyl) were discovered near the river Jadar, near Loznica, in western Serbia, in 2004, and in 2006 the new mineral was named after the river. It is estimated that the deposit could contain up to 10% of the world's proven lithium reserves. Rio Tinto, one of the largest multinational mining and metallurgical companies, whose geologists discovered the deposit, announced in July that it planned to invest $2.4 billion in mining the mineral and producing lithium from it.