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Doubt over Congo sanctions

US restrictions on minerals from conflict zones, which are mainly targeted at the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are being pulled in both directions by federal and state governments.

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The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 included a requirement for importers to carry out due diligence on minerals imported from DRC, to prevent illicit deals with local warlords. However, it has been widely reported that the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is considering lifting the restrictions.

Acting SEC chairman Michael Piwowar said: “Legitimate mining operators are facing such onerous costs to comply with the rule that they are being put out of business. It is also unclear that the rule has, in fact, resulted in any reduction in the power and control of armed gangs, or eased the human suffering of many innocent men, women, and children in the Congo and surrounding areas.” This is denied by the human rights NGOs that campaigned for the checks in the first place.

At the same time, the state government of Massachusetts is looking to join California and Maryland in intensifying checks on imported Congolese minerals and products made with them, such as mobile phones and computers.

On 2 February, Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker signed a resolution directing his administration to “review procurement policies regarding products that may contain extracted minerals” from the DRC.

DRC’s copper output fell by 5% to 986,000t in 2016 as a result of low international prices. State-owned Gécamines had aimed to increase its own output by 40% last year, but experienced a 15% fall to 14,260t. However, as with other commodities, rebounding prices should boost production over the next two years.

The Congolese Chamber of Mines forecasts a big increase in national copper production, to 1.5 Mt in 2018, partly as a result of increased output by Katanga Mining, which is 86.33% owned by Glencore. The latter plans to buy another 10% in the company from Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler, as well as 31% in Mutanda Mining from the Fleurette Group, for a combined US$534M.

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