A Chinese mining company is planning to construct a new lithium processing facility in Manitoba and says it is looking to allay Ottawa’s concerns with both national security and China’s dominance in the critical minerals market.
Sinomine Resource Group Co. Ltd., which owns the Tanco lithium mine in northeastern Manitoba, is planning to build a new lithium hydroxide plant in the province. The company said it will be teaming up with Korea’s LG Energy Solution Ltd. to speak with the government by the end of 2023.
“We want to expand our supply chain here, and better service downstream customers in North America, so that all the materials can stay provincial, stay in Canada, and supply North America,” Frank Wang, president of Sinomine’s North American division, told the Globe and Mail on June 6.
“Sinomine is willing to find a way to make it more comfortable for the government,” he said.
Ottawa faced criticism for allowing the Chinese company to buy Tanco from U.S.-based Cabot Corp. in 2019, despite having the authority to stop the deal on the basis of national security.
Conservative MP Greg McLean, who is a member of the House Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, raised concerns about the Tanco takeover in a committee meeting on Feb. 22, 2021, noting that the Tanco mine produces more than 80 percent of the world’s cesium. The mine also boasts production of 82 percent of the world’s known reserves of pollucite.
If Sinomine obtains approval to build the new lithium refinery, the company would be able to refine the key minerals to produce batteries in Canada and sell them within the North American supply chain. The company said it hopes to ease Canada’s concerns with China’s dominance of critical minerals, according to the Globe.
By partnering with Sinomine in this venture, LG could potentially use the processed lithium from the Manitoba refinery in the electric-vehicle battery plant LG is building with automaker Stellantis in Windsor, Ont., keeping the entire supply chain in North America.
The Epoch Times reached out to Sinomine and LG for comment but didn’t hear back by publication time.
Ottawa identifies lithium as a critical mineral because of its use in rechargeable batteries needed for producing electric vehicles. Canada is heavily reliant on China in terms of lithium trade, with over 60 percent of its net lithium oxide and hydroxide imports coming from China and Russia, according to the Government of Canada website.
To reduce this critical reliance on China, Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne ordered Sinomine, along with two other Chinese mining companies, to divest itself from natural resources development in Canada.
“While Canada continues to welcome foreign direct investment, we will act decisively when investments threaten our national security and our critical minerals supply chains, both at home and abroad,” the minister said in a statement issued on Nov. 2, 2022.
“The government’s decisions are based on facts and evidence and on the advice of critical minerals subject matter experts, Canada’s security and intelligence community, and other government partners.”
At the time, Sinomine was asked to sell its investments in the Vancouver-based Power Metals Corp., which has development projects for lithium, cesium, and tantalum in northern Ontario. But Champagne’s order was ultimately struck down by the federal government, with Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson saying in March that such measures would negatively impact foreign investments in Canada.
Concerns for national security regarding Chinese investments in Canada have intensified in recent months, following media reports of Beijing’s interference in Canadian elections and its creation of Chinese police stations on Canadian soil.
The Epoch Times reached out to Natural Resources Canada for comment on the issue, but it declined to respond, deferring to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED).
The ISED said it cannot “speculate on the potential national security impact of a hypothetical investment” by a non-Canadian entity.
“The national security review provisions apply broadly to foreign investments, including acquisition of control of a Canadian business, establishment of a new Canadian business and acquisition of all or part of an entity with operations in Canada,” Sean Benmor, senior communications advisor for the ISED, told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement.
He also noted that while the Guidelines on the National Security Review of Investments under the Investment Canada Act set out factors for the Innovation Minister to determine the potential impact of an investment, each investment is “considered on a case-by-case basis.”
Peter Wilson and Rahul Vaidyanath contributed to this report.