A new round of negotiations has begun in Brussels to try to reach a compromise on conflict minerals. But the process has stalled over disagreements on supply chain monitoring. EURACTIV France reports.
“Trade is an excellent weapon to eradicate poverty in developing countries,” the European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said at a press conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday (2 February).
The Commissioner was speaking after an informal meeting of EU development and trade ministers, an unusual combination thought up by the Dutch EU Presidency, which took over on 1 January.
But this guest list was no coincidence: the Netherlands is one of the few member states where one minister has responsibility for both foreign trade and development cooperation.
Trade and development
There is no shortage of subjects linking development policy and trade in the European Union this year.
Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, said, “We addressed the question of the Kimberly process, but also the legislation on conflict minerals, on which the negotiations should be concluded during the Dutch Presidency.”
The European Parliament has held spirited debates on the regulations concerning imports of gold, tantalum (the material that makes mobile phones vibrate), tungsten and tin from conflict zones.
A majority of MEPs are in favour of establishing monitoring requirements along the whole supply chain for importers of minerals, smelters and refineries, as well as for European producers of manufactured goods (mobile phones, tablets, washing machines, etc.).
This binding mechanism would ensure that minerals sold on the European market are not used to finance conflicts, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Great Lakes region.
But there is a wide gap between the proposals of the Parliament and those of the member states, which broadly support a non-binding opt-in system.
“We want clean and responsible trade. That is why we are advocating a binding regulation that applies not only to raw materials, but also to the finished products we consume in Europe,” said Marie Arena, a Belgian Socialist MEP who is involved in the negotiations.
“But the Council is very resistant to this idea, and it is proposing a voluntary system that would only be applicable to companies that import minerals and metals. This position is even weaker than the Commission’s proposal. It is just a way for Europe to clear its conscience without having any real impact on the ground or on business practices,” she added.
To close the gap between the institutions on this issue, Commissioner Malmström said she would defend a compromise between the two positions.
Malmström told the press, “We have reached a consensus on a number of important subjects, but the main remaining problem is the choice between a voluntary or compulsory system.”
The Commission has recommended the implementation of a compulsory system on just one part of the supply chain.
“We should not forget that European companies, and particularly our SMEs, are currently not able to identify every step [in their supply chains], so we can’t impose impracticable constraints,” the Commissioner said. “This is what we saw with Dodd-Frank in the United States,” she added.
The American example
The United States has adopted a binding system for verifying the origin of the minerals it imports.
But despite being hailed as a model piece of legislation, a critical report by the NGOs Global Witness and Amnesty International found that the highly restrictive American law is not widely enforced.