Raw Materials – where do they come from?

The material outputs from mining activities are not only inputs for the manufacturing value chain, but are also inputs for hard infrastructure and modern agriculture. And like modern Agriculture, both are also enabled by hard infrastructure, making them very much inter-dependent actors within the economy’s technical foundation. Raw materials are the critical inputs to the value chain: without raw material inputs coming from mining and from AFFF - Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Foraging (and in some cases coming via hard infrastructure), modern manufacturing industry grinds to a halt.

Today, industrialised countries increasingly depend on raw materials from countries with high natural (both abiotic and biotic) endowments (U.S, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, African Countries, and Russia for example). According to (Bairoch 1993) in:

...1973 30% of the commercial energy used by the Western developed countries came from the Third World; for Western Europe this share was as high as 58%… and …[i]n the case of some metals the developed Western countries obtained as much as 90% of their supplies from Third World countries.

Contrary to common opinion, however, this is actually a relatively modern phenomenon. Again according to Bairoch, the developed countries were almost self-sufficient (collectively) in energy, as late as the period after WWII. In 1913, the UK was a net exporter of coal - “6% of world production” (Bairoch, 1993), and it was only after the changes in the Middle East, following WWII, that consumption patterns in energy really shifted. Bairoch also argues that this was a very similar story for all major minerals, except perhaps for textile fibres, though dependency was limited.

The Mining Industry (mainly for metals) consists of three main activities: Mine ProductionSmelter Production and Refinery Production. And as with the rest of the supply chain, Mining Industry activities also have a form of hierarchy:

While mining has moved from developed to emerging economies, smelter and refinery production remains located mainly in developed countries, although this balance has already started to change with the quick growth of Chinese production of refined copper and aluminium. (ICM October 2012)

In Lester Browns book ‘Plan B 4.0’ (Brown, 2009), he highlights this vastly increased dependence on other countries natural resources, and the changing forms of fixing imports. One of the most extreme being the more affluent countries buying or long-term leasing of large Land Areas in other countries. Examples include Libya:

After more than a year of negotiations it [Libya] reached an agreement to farm 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of land in the Ukraine to grow wheat for its own people. Another example is China firm ZTE International that has secured the rights to 2.8 million hectares… in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on which to produce palm oil… (Brown, 2009)

...which was used for cooking or biodiesel fuel. Other countries that are also following this strategy are Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Kuwait,  India, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

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