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Lithium Discovery in Iran: A Geopolitical Tool to Enhance Economic Prospects?

Iran possesses significant mineral reserves, but its mining industry grapples with issues, including machinery shortages and international sanctions. The recent lithium discovery in Iran holds the potential to boost its mining sector and economy, depending on the viability of lithium extraction and processing, as well as geopolitical factors. It can serve as a bargaining chip to lift sanctions imposed by the Western world. China is poised to benefit the most from Iran’s lithium discovery due to its strategic partnership and expertise in lithium refining and extraction technologies. However, despite Iran’s strong mining potential, high infrastructure costs, technological limitations, and sanctions hinder its mining industry development.

Lithium discovery to help drive mining industry and economic upliftment in Iran

Iran is home to more than 7% of the world’s total mineral reserves and is rich in minerals, including zinc, copper, iron ore, coal, and gypsum. However, Iran’s mining industry is still nascent and barely contributes to economic growth due to a lack of necessary machinery and equipment as well as international sanctions.

In the past, Iran exported various minerals, such as iron ore, zinc, and copper, to Western countries. However, prolonged international sanctions, initially imposed in 2006 to restrain Iran’s nuclear development program, resulted in insufficient investment in the mining sector.

Lithium Discovery in Iran A Geopolitical Tool to Enhance Economic Prospects by EOS Intelligence

Lithium Discovery in Iran, a Geopolitical Tool to Enhance Economic Prospects by EOS Intelligence

Announced in March 2023, the discovery of lithium deposits holding up to 8.5 million tons of lithium in Iran, if proven accurate, is expected to strengthen the country’s mining sector and overall economic growth. Iran is the first country in the Middle East to discover lithium deposits.

Lithium is a crucial component of lithium-ion batteries used in smartphones and electric vehicles. The increasing adoption of electric vehicles is fueling the demand for lithium at a significant rate globally. There is a great need to scale up lithium mining and processing to meet the demand, particularly for the manufacturing of electric vehicles.

International Energy Agency (IEA), in its global EV outlook for 2022, indicated that about 50 new average-sized mines need to be built to fulfill the rising lithium demand for electric vehicles and meet international carbon emission goals. There are already signs of lithium shortage as demand for lithium increases globally. The lithium reserve found in Iran holds the potential to reverse the lithium supply shortage into surplus in the coming years.


Read our related Perspective:
Electric Vehicle Industry Jittery over Looming Lithium Supply Shortage

Hope for the lifting of sanctions and reestablishment of diplomatic relations

The lithium discovery in Iran is expected to redirect focus toward mining activities in the Middle East. Iran can leverage this discovery to persuade Western nations, such as the USA and the EU countries, to lift sanctions imposed for its nuclear program, support for terrorism, and human rights violations. These sanctions include restrictions on Iran’s access to the global financial system, travel bans on targeted individuals and entities involved in concerning activities, and limitations on trade in certain goods and technologies.

In August 2023, Iran and the USA reached an agreement wherein Iran intended to release detained Americans in exchange for the release of several imprisoned Iranians and access to frozen financial assets. Fulfillment of commitments demonstrates mutual trust among the countries, which could pave the way for improved relations, reduced tensions, and future diplomatic initiatives. The US government also permitted Iran to enrich uranium up to 60%. This can be interpreted as allowing Iran to meet their nuclear aspirations, which could encourage Iran to comply with the agreement signed with the USA. As cooperation and trust between the nations strengthen, this agreement could ease sanctions. Moreover, if relations continue to improve, Iran could potentially seek assistance from the USA for its lithium venture.

Also, in March 2023, Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the help of China, reached an agreement to resume their diplomatic relations, re-open embassies, and implement agreements covering economy, investment, trade, and security. With the reestablishment of cordial relations, Saudi Arabia is likely to engage in joint ventures within Iran’s mining sector, providing mutual benefits for both nations.

It can also be expected that India will seek to strengthen its ties with Iran by building strong collaborations to ensure a regular lithium supply, considering that India is one of the largest importers of lithium-ion batteries. Iran and India share strong and multifaceted relations across various areas, such as trade, energy, connectivity, culture, and strategic cooperation. As India strives to transition to renewable energy sources and reduce its carbon footprint, access to lithium reserves from Iran could facilitate the development and deployment of energy storage solutions, such as grid-scale batteries and off-grid systems.

Potential to disrupt the global lithium race and geopolitical relations

The announcement of lithium deposits in Iran is likely to impact the global competition for lithium resources significantly. It holds the power to disrupt the existing power dynamics in the global lithium race, as it is estimated to be the second-largest lithium reserve in the world after Chile.

Many countries compete to control lithium supply chains due to its strategic importance, particularly in the EV industry. A few countries dominate the global lithium production, including Australia, Chile, and China. The emergence of Iran as a significant lithium producer could diversify the global supply chain. China, the largest importer and processor of lithium and manufacturer of lithium batteries, holds a substantial share of the lithium market. China is particularly reliant on foreign lithium suppliers, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, and Zimbabwe, accounting for around 70% of its total lithium imports.

With China’s well-established economic and political relations with Iran, there is potential for collaborative ventures in the clean energy transition supply chain. In addition, China’s expertise in technological advancements in lithium-related technologies, particularly lithium-ion battery manufacturing, purification and refinement of lithium, battery management systems, and development of battery materials, will likely play a crucial role in gaining access to Iranian lithium. Increased access to lithium will reduce its dependence on the current lithium suppliers and gain dominance in the lithium supply, impacting the trade balance and economic growth of countries supplying lithium to China.

At the same time, Australia, which stands out as China’s current primary source of lithium, exporting around 90% of its lithium to China, might encounter political and economic challenges. Australia, being a close ally of the USA, is likely to face pressure to curb its lithium exports to China, aiming to limit China’s access to sources of lithium. Chile, also being the key supplier of lithium to China, may face similar pressure from the USA. The USA is likely to exert such pressures, as China’s strong position could undermine the USA’s technological competitiveness and leadership in the EV market, accelerating the existing tensions and disrupting power dynamics in the global lithium race.

Major influencing countries such as the USA, Canada, France, Japan, Australia, the UK, and Germany also formed the Sustainable Critical Minerals Alliance in 2022. The alliance aims to secure supply chains of critical minerals, including lithium, nickel, and cobalt, from countries with more robust environmental and labor standards to reduce dependency on China. Such initiatives are expected to impact China’s dominant global lithium supply chain position.

Inevitably, Iran’s lithium discovery and China’s potential involvement in securing access to the resource can influence international relations, particularly between China and the USA, and China and Australia.

China to deepen ties with Iran

China and Iran have established an extensive partnership focused on China’s energy needs and Iran’s abundant resources. China has remained Iran’s primary trading partner for more than a decade. Their relationship grew stronger, specifically after the USA pulled out of the nuclear agreement and reintroduced sanctions on Tehran in 2018. Both China and Iran are confronted with sanctions from the USA, which is expected to strengthen collaboration between the two to mitigate the impact of sanctions and to counterbalance US influence in the Middle East and Asia.

In March 2021, China and Iran signed a 25-year strategic collaborative agreement to reinforce the countries’ economic and political alliance, particularly focusing on investment in Iran’s energy and infrastructure industry and assuring regular oil and gas supply to China. This is expected to further strengthen the relations between Iran and China.

China, the most trusted strategic ally of Iran and a significant lithium producer will likely act as a critical partner in building up Iran’s lithium industry. As the global leader in electric vehicle adoption (in absolute terms), the demand for lithium in China has increased dramatically in recent years. Also, China stands out as the only trade partner capable of accessing and refining lithium on a large scale. This will strengthen the Iran-China relations further.

High infrastructure costs and lack of FDI to challenge the Iranian mining sector

Despite the presence of a vast mining potential in the country, certain factors such as inadequate access to essential machinery and equipment, lack of exploration facilities, lack of sufficient infrastructure and investment, absence of advanced technologies, and shortage of financial resources limit the growth of the mining sector in Iran.

Lack of access to new cutting-edge production technologies, exacerbated by international sanctions, results in inefficient utilization of resources, particularly water, fuel, and electricity in mining operations. In addition, high production costs, mandatory pricing, and lack of skilled labor further pose obstacles in mining operations. This, together with the fact that the lithium extraction process is generally expensive and time-consuming, has led to various small and medium-sized mines opting to cease their operations.

The absence of foreign investment due to international sanctions poses challenges in conducting mining operations in the country. The government seeks to attract foreign investment in the mining sector, a difficult task amid structural challenges, human rights abuse accusations, and international sanctions.

Exploitation of lithium reserves discovered in the country will be difficult due to the lack of advanced technologies required for extraction, processing, and refining. The assessment of lithium grade and its economic feasibility will play a crucial role in determining whether to exploit the reserve.

EOS Perspective

The scale of lithium reserves discovered in Iran is significant, but the exploitation of the mineral is not likely to happen in the near future. Its viability, economic feasibility, actual quantity, and grade are yet to be ascertained. Also, the country does not have access to the necessary technologies required to process and refine lithium, so it has to rely on foreign investors.

Foreign investment in Iran is hindered by the sanctions imposed by the USA and the EU against Iran’s nuclear development program. Back in 2015, Iran agreed to scale down its nuclear program and allow broader access to international inspections to its facilities in return for billions of dollars in sanctions relief. But that ended in 2018 when the USA withdrew from the deal. With the recent agreement signed in 2023, there is hope that it could pave the way for the relaxation of sanctions on Iran.

Additionally, considering lithium’s pivotal role in multiple industries and concerns about China’s dominant power in the lithium supply chain, the US government might consider easing sanctions. EU is not likely to ease or lift sanctions and invest in Iran immediately due to uncertainties about the viability of the reserve, its impact on the environment during extraction, and lack of energy investments in the country. However, the EU may consider easing sanctions in the future if the USA moves in that direction.

Russia and China, having economic and diplomatic ties with Iran, are more likely to show interest in Iran’s lithium discovery. Russia is focusing on expanding its presence in the lithium market to meet the increasing demand for lithium in vehicles and energy storage systems. As a step in this direction, in December 2023, Rosatom, a Russian state corporation, signed a deal to invest US$450 million in Bolivia to construct a pilot lithium plant. Russia is also likely to explore investment opportunities in Iran’s lithium sector.

China is expected to benefit the most from the lithium discovery in Iran, considering its longstanding relations with Iran. At the same time, Iran is also more likely to be eager to collaborate with China, considering China’s strength in the lithium industry and international sanctions.

However, Iran should not solely rely on China, considering China’s track record of engaging in debt-trap diplomacy to exert influence and dependence, particularly over low-income countries. For instance, in 2013, China launched its infamous Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), under which it started funding and executing several infrastructure projects in developing and underdeveloped countries across the globe. However, over the years, the BRI initiative has been criticized for resulting in an increased dependence and trapping of the partner countries in heavy debt through expansive projects, non-payment of which may lead to a significant economic and political burden on them. A collaborative agreement spanning 25 years was also signed by China with Iran, primarily focusing on investing in Iran’s energy and infrastructure sectors, facilitating Iran’s involvement in the BRI. Iran could also fall into a similar debt trap, having no viable alternative partner, a fact that China can take advantage of.


Read our related Perspective:
China’s BRI Hits a Road Bump as Global Economies Partner to Challenge It

Many countries are likely to be interested in investing and building strong collaboration with Iran if the reserves’ viability is confirmed and the grade and quality of lithium are suitable for use. This could change the entire dynamics of the lithium supply chain and also lead to a decrease in lithium prices, which have been skyrocketing due to a significant surge in global lithium demand.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Commentary: Opioid Epidemic in the USA – Is the War to Curb the Crisis Turning Futile?

The opioid crisis in the USA is believed to have begun in the 1990s with the overprescription of pain-relieving medicines. However, the epidemic gained steam recently with the availability of cheap heroin, fentanyl, and other synthetic opioids in the USA that foreign drug cartels from Mexico and China predominantly provide. According to a report by the US Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), the economic burden caused by the opioid crisis in the USA is to the tune of US$ 1.5 trillion in 2020, a 37% increase from 2017 when the CDC last reported it. This translates to 7% of the country’s GDP in 2020, indicating that the problem cannot be ignored.

The death toll owing to the opioid epidemic has tripled from 2016 to 2021, as per research by Yale University. In terms of human deaths, over 1,500 Americans die per week from taking some form of opioid. The overall death toll owing to opioid overdose was 80,411 in 2021.

Although the US government has taken initiatives to curb the crisis, such as increasing the federal, state, and local governments’ investments in drug treatment and prevention programs, a lot more needs to be done in the field of foreign policy and drug approval control, among others.

Federal action to control the opioid epidemic is underway, but more efforts are needed

From funding treatment programs and addiction prevention tools to focusing on a harm-reduction approach that lays importance on life-saving drugs and tools that could reverse opioid overdose, the US government has recently taken significant measures to curb the opioid crisis in the country.

Government grants and monetary aid

To begin with, the federal, state, and local governments have increased funding for the treatment and prevention programs for opioid use disorder. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act was passed in 2016 to combat the opioid crisis in the USA. It was a six-pronged strategy with pillars: prevention, treatment, recovery, law enforcement, criminal justice reform, and overdose reversal.

In monetary grants provided by the federal government, a sum of US$1.8 billion was given to states to combat the opioid crisis in 2019. Grants of US$900 million were given to the CDC over three years to facilitate the monitoring of overdose data and subsequently design strategies for treatment in states and counties/localities.

In addition, US$932 million was given to all 50 states in State Opioid Response grants in 2019. In 2021, the Biden government and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) provided US$5.5 billion for mental health and substance abuse prevention. In 2022, the sum was increased to US$1.5 billion for the State Opioid Response grants.

Apart from grants given by the federal government, some states and counties/localities utilized the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the ARP for developing programs to improve behavioral health, prevent opioid addiction, and treatment strategies for opioid use disorder. The SLFRF was to the tune of US$350 billion that was given to the state, territorial, local, and tribal governments across the USA to help them respond to and recover from COVID-19.

Drug control policies

In addition to monetary aid, the federal government brought about changes in drug control policies. For example, in April 2022, the Biden government introduced the National Drug Control Strategy that focused on a harm reduction approach that advocates using life-saving tools such as naloxone, drug test strips, and syringe services programs. It also promotes evidence-based treatment for those who are at a high risk of an overdose and improvement of the data and research systems for seamless development of drug policies.

With the FDA approval of the naloxone nasal spray Narcan in March 2023, it became the first OTC drug in the USA to reverse fentanyl overdoses. Narcan began to be sold to the public by September 2023.

Foreign policies

The US federal government has worked together with the government of Mexico for decades to curb the flow of illicit drugs entering the USA. To cite an example, through the Merida Initiative, the USA gave Mexico monetary aid of US$3.5 billion between 2008 and 2021 to counter the smuggling of illegal drugs across borders.

In the second half of 2021, the Biden government announced synthetic-opioid peddling a national emergency. The federal government also signed two executive orders that allowed the Biden administration to sanction individuals and bodies involved in the creation and distribution of fentanyl.

The 2022 National Drug Control Strategy also laid down policies to minimize the supply of illegal drugs through domestic and international collaboration.

In the second half of 2023, the federal government sanctioned 25 companies and individuals based in China who were suspected to be associated with the production of fentanyl precursor chemicals. Furthermore, the Biden government added China to the US list of countries involved in the creation and distribution of illegal drugs. This list comprises 22 other countries, such as Colombia, Mexico, and India.

In addition to this, the Biden government has continued to put pressure on Mexico to seize fentanyl precursor chemicals obtained from China and eradicate secret laboratories in Mexico. In November 2023, president Biden agreed with the Chinese and Mexican presidents separately to improve bilateral cooperation to prevent the production and dissemination of illegal fentanyl.

Domestic control measures

Apart from international efforts, federal action is being taken to control illegal opioid dissemination domestically. For instance, regulations have been put in place to revise the limits on opioid prescriptions, to prioritize seizing fentanyl, and to create widespread awareness of fentanyl’s lethality. Compared to 2021, the Drug Enforcement Administration of the USA seized double the quantity of fentanyl in 2022, and it announced that 60% of fake prescription drugs possess a lethal dose of fentanyl.

EOS Perspective

The JEC estimates of the US opioid crisis cost of US$1.5 trillion in 2020 speak volumes about the scope and size of the federal action needed to combat the epidemic. The magnitude of the opioid crisis in the USA calls for concrete action from the federal, state, and local governments to decrease both the death toll and the economic burden.

The federal government should promote the increase of access to evidence-based treatment by eradicating the barriers to healthcare and continue to embrace the “treatment over punishment” approach, focusing on medical attention and support instead of imprisonment. Another step is to enable the Medicaid expansion of the 12 states that have yet to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This will lead to higher access to treatment, thereby minimizing the fatality rate.

Furthermore, the federal government should fund the Overdose Data to Action program for the expanded opioid data collection on overdose deaths in all US states. This will aid researchers and policymakers in arriving at the socioeconomic cost and aftermath of the opioid epidemic to understand better and resolve the problem. The federal government should also take initiatives to reduce the societal stigma around substance abuse for higher enrollment in treatment services.

Moreover, the federal government needs to address Narcan’s cost and accessibility challenges in the USA for better reach and impact. More R&D, increased border inspection, better overdose prevention, and employee assistance programs are instrumental in controlling the opioid epidemic in a better way.

Allocation of funds, increasing access to treatment, and enhancing the understanding of the scale of the epidemic are crucial steps in decreasing the human and economic toll of the opioid crisis in the USA.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Commercial Nuclear Fusion – Reality or a Fairy Tale?

Nuclear fusion has recently gained attention as a potential source of clean energy. It was a result of the US National Ignition Facility in California achieving a major milestone in December 2022 in which researchers were able to produce more energy than was used to ignite it for the first time. Several countries are cooperating in the world’s largest fusion experiment project called ITER, focused on the construction and operation of an experimental fusion reactor located in France. Large-cap companies such as Google and the ministries regulating energy policies across the globe are also investing in fusion energy projects and start-ups to promote fusion energy generation. Despite huge investments, commercializing fusion energy still has a long way to go due to certain technological and operational challenges associated with the generation of this type of energy.

Ever-increasing carbon emissions due to the ongoing rise in energy consumption are driving the need for accelerating energy generation from renewable sources. As of October 2022, over 40% of global carbon emissions were caused by power generation. As per the International Energy Agency, carbon emissions from energy generation increased by 0.9% in 2022, in comparison with 2021, to reach 36.8GT.

Additionally, the energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, particularly in Europe, further augmented the need for energy generation using renewable sources. The surge in energy demand from households and industries is putting pressure on the existing energy supplies, thus resulting in high energy prices.

So far, solar and wind energy sources have been prominently used across countries to meet the rapidly increasing energy demand. Nuclear fusion is another alternative renewable source as it does not emit carbon emissions or produce long-lived radioactive waste products, unlike nuclear fission.

Nuclear fusion is an energy-intensive process and requires high temperatures for fusion reaction. In the nuclear fusion process, energy is released by combining two atomic nuclei into one heavier nucleus. The released energy is then captured and converted into electricity by a fusion machine. This process is also the key source of energy in the sun and other stars.

Nuclear fusion releases around four million times more energy as compared to coal, gas, or oil, and four times more than nuclear fission technology. Nuclear fusion can provide energy to an extent that can power up homes, cities, and whole countries.

Current state of the nuclear fusion energy

The potential of generating nuclear fusion energy has been recognized since the 1950s. Countries across geographies have been involved in nuclear fusion research, led by the EU, USA, Russia, and Japan, along with vigorous programs underway in China, Brazil, Korea, and Canada. Various experimental fusion devices have been designed and constructed to advance and transform the way fusion energy is generated. These include tokamaks, stellarators, and laser-based technology devices. Tokamaks and stellarators have been used more commonly for fusion energy research experiments.

Some of the tokamaks and stellarators built across countries for generating fusion energy include the Joint European Torus (JET), started in the UK in 1978, the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator, started in Germany in 1994, Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) started in South Korea in 1995, the Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak- (MAST) initially started in the UK in 1997 and further upgraded to MAST-U in 2013, and Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) started in China in 2000, among others. Six countries, including China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, the USA, as well as the EU, are cooperating in the world’s largest fusion experiment, ITER, an experimental fusion reactor currently under construction in France through EURATOM, the European Atomic Energy Community. ITER idea was first launched in 1985 and established in 2007. Its first experiment was scheduled to start in 2025 but is delayed due to Covid-19 disruptions. It is aimed at producing 500MW of fusion power from 50MW of input heating power.

Further, in 2017, China launched the China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR) project as a follow-up to the ITER. This tokamak device is aimed at producing an extremely powerful magnetic field to confine plasma and generate fusion energy. This magnetic field can contain and control hydrogen gas ten times hotter than the core of the sun. CFETR is aimed at producing a peak power output of 2GW once completed in 2035, bridging the gap between scientific experiments and commercial use.

Extensive progress has been noticed in studying laser-based technology for fusion energy generation. Some of the facilities that use laser technology to produce fusion energy include the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in the USA and the Laser Mégajoule (LMJ) in France.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also supports its member states in research activities related to fusion energy generation. It also organizes various workshops on fusion power plant concept demonstrations, technical meetings, and coordinates research activities.

Nuclear Fusion – Reality or a Fairy Tale?by EOS Intelligence

Nuclear Fusion – Reality or a Fairy Tale? by EOS Intelligence

Some of the breakthroughs achieved in fusion energy experiments to date

There has been significant progress in the research and development activities focused on nuclear fusion energy generation. Researchers are continuously emphasizing optimizing the condition of plasma through changes in density, temperature, and confinement time to achieve the required level of performance for a power plant. Several nuclear reactors were able to sustain high temperatures during the fusion process. For instance, in January 2022, the EAST reactor in China sustained temperatures of 126 million degrees Fahrenheit, which is nearly five times hotter than the sun, for 17 minutes, and thus, broke the record for longest sustained nuclear fusion.

In February 2022, the Joint European Torus (JET) achieved a record performance for sustained fusion energy of 59MJ over five seconds.

Also, in September 2022, the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) experiment achieved plasma temperatures of 120 million kelvins for up to 20 seconds, a key demonstration of simultaneous high temperatures and plasma stability.

Recently, in December 2022, a major breakthrough was achieved at the US National Ignition Facility in California by using inertial confinement fusion, which released more energy than was pumped in by the lasers for the first time in the world. The laser shot released 3.15MJ of energy in comparison with the 2.05MJ pumped to the hydrogen isotope pellet by lasers. This breakthrough is likely to pave the way for abundant clean energy in the future.

Breakthroughs driving further investment in fusion energy R&D

Breakthroughs achieved over the past years in various projects have attracted significant investment by both the government and private sector in the research and development of fusion energy. For instance, in February 2023, Israel’s Ministry of Energy (MoE) proposed to provide US$11.5 million to establish a national nuclear fusion institute in Israel. This initiative includes major universities of Israel, namely the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Technion and Tel Aviv University, the Weizmann Institute of Science, as well as NT-Tao, an Israel-based start-up which is engaged in the development of a compact system for nuclear fusion.

Similarly, in October 2022, the UK government announced to provide US$249.6 million of funding for the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) project’s first phase, which will include concept design by the UK Atomic Energy Authority by 2024. STEP is a program aimed at designing and constructing a prototype fusion energy plant by 2040.

In March 2022, the US Department of Energy (DOE) proposed to provide around US$50 million of federal funding to support US scientists involved in conducting experimental research in fusion energy science. Of this, US$20 million was to support tokamak facilities and US$30 million to support fusion research to improve the performance of fusion and increase the duration of burning plasma. In addition to this, the US government’s budget for the financial year 2023 included US$723 million for the Office of Science Fusion Energy Sciences research in enabling technologies, materials, advanced computing and simulation, and new partnerships with private fusion efforts. This amount included US$240 million for the ongoing construction of ITER tokamak. Also, the budget for the financial year 2024 includes US$16.5 billion to support climate science and clean energy innovation, including US$1 billion to advance fusion energy technology.

Private funding in fusion companies has also increased significantly in the recent past. As per the Fusion Industry Association Report 2022 published in July, private sector funding amounted to about US$4.8 billion in total, witnessing an increase of 139% since 2021. Fusion companies also received an additional US$117 million in grants and other funding from governments. Big resource groups such as Equinor, based in Norway, Google, and Chevron, based in the USA, have also invested in fusion energy research. For instance, in July 2022, Chevron, together with Google and Japan-based Sumitomo Corporation, invested in TAE Technologies, a US-based nuclear fusion start-up, in a US$250 million fundraising round to build its next-generation fusion machine.

In addition to this, entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, are also providing financial support. In December 2021, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) raised around US$1.8 billion in series B funding from various key investors, including Bill Gates, DFJ Growth, and Emerson Collective, among others, to commercialize fusion energy.

Companies engaged in nuclear fusion energy generation

More than 35 companies are engaged in fusion energy generation for commercial use, such as Tokamak Energy, General Fusion, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Helion Energy, Zap Energy, and TAE Technologies, among others. These fusion companies are increasingly emphasizing collaborations and experimenting with new technologies to produce fusion energy and make it available for commercial use.

In March 2023, Eni, an energy group based in Italy, and Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) based in the USA, a spin-out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), signed a collaboration agreement aimed at accelerating the industrialization of fusion energy.

In February 2023, TAE Technologies achieved a breakthrough in its hydrogen-boron fusion experiment in magnetically confined fusion plasma. This experiment was a collaboration between Japan’s National Institute for Fusion Science (NIFT) and TAE Technologies.

Also, in February 2023, Tokamak Energy proposed to build a new fusion energy advanced prototype at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Culham Campus, UK, using power plant-relevant magnet technology. It also built the first set of high-temperature superconducting magnets for testing nuclear fusion power plants. This supermagnet can confine and control extremely hot plasma created during the fusion process.

Certain breakthroughs achieved over the years in the nuclear fusion energy field have encouraged the entry of various start-ups across geographies. For instance, Princeton Stellarators, a US-based start-up focused on building modular, utility-scale fusion power, was founded in 2022. Another start-up named Focused Energy, a Germany-based fusion company, was founded in 2021 to develop a fusion power plant based on laser and target technology. In September 2021, the company raised US$15 million in seed funding led by Prime Movers Lab, along with additional investment from various entrepreneurs.

Start-ups are also emphasizing raising funds to create new fusion technologies and make a significant impact on the industry. In February 2023, NT-Tao, an Israel-based nuclear fusion start-up founded in 2019, raised US$22 million in a series A funding round aimed at developing a high-density, compact fusion reactor to provide clean energy.

Additionally, in January 2023, Renaissance Fusion, a France-based start-up founded in 2020, raised US$16.4 million in a seed funding round led by Lowercarbon Capital. The company is engaged in the development of a stellarator reactor for fusion energy generation.

Challenges to nuclear fusion energy generation

Although a lot of companies and governments across geographies are investing in nuclear fusion energy generation experiments, building full-scale fusion-generating facilities requires advanced engineering, advanced vacuum systems, and superconducting magnets. One of the key challenges in the fusion process is the requirement of extremely high temperatures to produce energy. Also, it becomes difficult to control plasma at such high temperatures.

Additionally, the lack of availability of materials that can extract heat more effectively while withstanding their mechanical properties for a longer duration is another challenge affecting the fusion energy generation process.

Moreover, fusion research projects are also facing capital and financing challenges due to high upfront costs, return uncertainty, and long project duration. The capital investment involved in building and operating a fusion reactor is high due to complex technology that requires significant investment in R&D, high energy requirements, use of advanced materials, and regulatory requirements aimed at ensuring the safety and low environmental impact of the fusion reactor. The cost of building a fusion reactor ranges between tens to hundreds of billions of dollars. It can vary depending on various factors such as size, design, location, materials, and technology used.

Since fusion energy is a new technology, there is uncertainty about when nuclear fusion will become a viable and cost-effective energy source, such as other energy sources, including wind and solar. This makes it difficult for investors to invest in fusion projects and predict the return on investment.

However, ongoing research and development activities aimed at building advanced, highly efficient, and cost-effective fusion reactors and commercializing fusion energy generation at a large scale are likely to overcome these challenges in the long term.

EOS Perspective

Accelerating climate crisis is driving the investment in nuclear fusion research and development as it does not create carbon emissions and long-lasting nuclear waste products. Over the past several years, various fusion research projects, university programs, and start-ups have achieved breakthroughs in the fusion energy field. The most recent breakthrough at the US National Ignition Facility in California, which released more energy than was pumped in by the lasers, has paved the way to the nuclear fusion gold rush and sparked excitement among investors, companies, and researchers.

Many fusion companies, such as Commonwealth Fusion Systems and TAE Technologies, are claiming to exceed breakeven by 2025 and commercialize fusion energy by 2030. Billions of dollars have been invested in nuclear fusion energy generation experiments but no company or projects have been able to achieve breakeven yet.

Several new fusion projects are planning on using advanced materials and putting a new generation of supercomputers to tweak the performance of ultrahigh-temperature plasma, but commercializing fusion energy is still far from reality. Moreover, the fusion process is very complex, requires extreme temperatures for fusion reactions, and involves huge energy costs. Thus, alternative clean energy sources such as wind and solar will likely remain the near-term methods to meet sustainable energy demand. At the same time, it should be expected that the increasing government support and investment by large cap organizations and entrepreneurs are likely to help set up viable fusion power plants in the future.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Is ChatGPT Just Another Tech Innovation or A Game Changer?

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ChatGPT, a revolutionary AI-based conversational chatbot, has been making headlines around the world. The AI-based tool can answer user queries and generate new content in a human-like way. By automating tasks such as customer support and content creation, ChatGPT has the potential to revolutionize many industries, resulting in a more efficient digital landscape and an enhanced user experience. However, the technology is not without its risks and poses a number of issues, such as creating malicious content, copyright infringement, and other moral issues. Despite these challenges, the possibilities for ChatGPT are infinite, and with the advancement of technology, the opportunities it presents will only continue to expand.

ChatGPT is an AI-based question-and-answer chatbot that responds to user queries in a conversational way, just like how humans respond. OpenAI, a US-based research and development company, launched ChatGPT in November 2022. Since then, ChatGPT has garnered increased attention and popularity worldwide. The tool surpassed over 1 million users within five days and 100 million users within two months of launch.

ChatGPT has become popular due to its capability to answer queries in a simple and conversational manner. The tool can perform various functions, such as generating content for marketing campaigns, writing emails, blogs, and essays, debugging code, and even solving mathematics questions.

OpenAI’s ChatGPT works on the concept of generative AI and uses a language model called GPT3 – a third-generation Generative Pre-trained Transformer. The AI chatbot has been fed with about 45 terabytes of text data on a diverse range of topics from sources such as books, websites, and articles and has been trained on a set of algorithms to understand relationships between words and phrases and how it is used in context. This way, the model is able to develop an understanding of languages and generate answers. ChatGPT uses a dialog format, asks follow-up questions for clarification, admits mistakes, and is capable of dismissing inappropriate or dangerous requests.

ChatGPT also has a simple user interface, allowing communication through a plain textbox just like a messaging app, thus making it easy to use. Currently, ChatGPT is in beta testing, and users can use it for free to try and provide feedback. However, the free version is often inaccessible and out of capacity due to the increasing traffic.

In February 2023, OpenAI launched a pilot subscription plan named ChatGPT Plus, starting at US$20 per month, which is available to its customers in the USA. The subscription plan provides access to ChatGPT even during peak times and provides prior access to any new features. OpenAI is also testing ChatGPT to generate videos and pictures using its DALLE image-generating software, which is another AI tool developed by OpenAI to create art and images from text prompts. OpenAI also plans to launch a ChatGPT mobile app soon.

How could ChatGPT help businesses?

One of the most impactful areas where ChatGPT can make a difference is customer support. The AI tool can handle a large volume of consumer queries within a short time frame and give accurate responses, which can boost work efficiency and reduce employees’ workload.

In addition, the tool can also be employed to answer sales-related queries. By training ChatGPT to understand product information, pricing, and other details, businesses can provide a seamless sales experience for customers. ChatGPT can also analyze user data and behavior and can assist customers to find the products they are looking for, and give product recommendations leading to a more tailored and enjoyable shopping experience. ChatGPT can be incorporated into websites to engage visitors and help them find the information they need, which can help in lead generation.

Another potential benefit of ChatGPT is its ability to automate content generation. ChatGPT can generate unique and original content quickly, making it an effective tool for creating marketing materials such as email campaigns, blogs, newsletters, etc.

ChatGPT could be used in a number of industries, such as travel, education, real estate, healthcare, information technology, etc. For instance, in the tech industry, ChatGPT can write programs in specific programming languages such as JavaScript, Python, and React, and can be very helpful to developers in generating code snippets and for code debugging.

In healthcare, the tool can be used in scheduling appointments, summarizing patient’s health information based on previous history, assisting in diagnostics, and for telemedicine services.

In the education sector, ChatGPT can be used to prepare teaching materials and lessons and to provide personalized tutoring classes.

These are just a few applications of ChatGPT. As generative technology continues to evolve, there may be many other potential applications that can help businesses achieve their goals more efficiently and effectively.

Is ChatGPT Just Another Tech Innovation or A Game Changer by EOS Intelligence

ChatGPT’s output may not be always accurate

While ChatGPT offers several benefits and advantages, the tool is not without limitations. ChatGPT works on pre-trained data that cannot handle nuances or other ambiguities and thus may generate answers that are incorrect, biased, or inappropriate.

Moreover, ChatGPT is not connected to the internet and cannot refer to an external link to respond to queries that are not part of its training. It also does not cover the news and events after 2021 and cannot provide real-time information.

Another major limitation is that the tool is often out of capacity due to the high traffic, which makes it inaccessible. There are also other potential risks associated with these generative AI tools. Some of the threats include writing phishing emails, copyright infringement, generating abusive content or malicious software, plagiarism, and much more.

ChatGPT is not the first or only AI chatbot

While ChatGPT has garnered most of the attention in the last few months, it is neither the first nor the only AI-based chatbot in the market. There are many AI-based writers and AI chatbots in the market. These tools vary in their applications and have their own strengths and weaknesses.

For instance, ChatSonic, first released in 2020, is an AI writing assistant touted as the top ChatGPT alternative. This AI chatbot is supported by Google, has voice dictation capabilities, can generate up-to-date content, and can also generate images based on text prompts. However, ChatSonic has word limits in its free as well as paid versions, which makes it difficult for users who need to generate large pieces of text.

Similarly, Jasper is another AI tool launched in 2021, which works based on the language model (GPT-3) similar to ChatGPT. Jasper can write and generate content for blogs, videos, Twitter threads, etc., in over 50 language templates and can also check for grammar and plagiarism. Jasper AI is specifically built for dealing with business use cases and is also faster and more efficient and generates more accurate results than ChatGPT.

YouChat is another example, developed in 2022 by You.com, and running on OpenAI GPT-3. It performs similar functions as ChatGPT – responding to queries, solving math equations, coding, translating, and writing content. This chatbot cites source links of the information and acts more like an AI-powered search engine. However, YouChat lacks an aesthetic appeal and may generate results that are outdated at times.

ChatGPT-styled chatbots to power search engines

While a lot of buzz has been created about this technology, the impact of AI-based conversational chatbots is yet to be seen on a large scale. Many proclaim that tools such as ChatGPT will replace the traditional search method of using Google to obtain information.

However, experts argue that it is highly unlikely. While AI chatbots can mimic human-like conversation, they need to be trained on massive amounts of data to generate any kind of answers. These tools work on pre-trained models that were fed with large amounts of data sourced from books, articles, websites, and many more resources to generate content. Hence, real-time learning and answering would be cost-intensive in the long run.

Moreover, ChatGPT’s answers may not always be comprehensive or accurate, requiring human supervision. ChatGPT may also not be very good at solving logical questions. For instance, when asked to solve a simple problem – “RQP, ONM, _, IHG, FED, find the missing letters”, ChatGPT answered incorrectly as “LKI”. Similarly, when provided a text prompt, “The odd numbers in the group 17, 32, 3, 15, 82, 9, 1 add up to an even number”, the chatbot affirmed it, which is false. Moreover, the AI chatbot does not cover news after 2021, and when asked, “Who won the 2022 World Cup?” ChatGPT said the event has not taken place.

On the other hand, Google uses several algorithms to rank web pages and gives the most relevant web results and comprehensive information. Google has access to a much larger pool of data and the ability to analyze it in real time. Additionally, Google’s ranking algorithms have been developed over years of research and refinement, making them incredibly efficient and effective at delivering high-quality results. Therefore, while AI chatbots can be useful in certain contexts, they are unlikely to replace traditional search methods, such as Google.

However, leading search engines are looking to incorporate ChatGPT into their search tools. For instance, Microsoft is planning to incorporate ChatGPT 4, a faster version of the current ChatGPT version, into its Bing Search engine. Since 2019, the company has invested about US$13 billion in OpenAI, the parent company of ChatGPT.

In February 2023, Microsoft also incorporated ChatGPT into its popular office software Teams. With this, users with Teams premium accounts will able to generate meeting notes, access recommended tasks, and would be able to see personalized highlights of the meeting using ChatGPT. These add immense value to the user.

In February 2023, China-based e-commerce company Alibaba also announced its plan to launch its own AI chatbot similar to ChatGPT. Similarly, Baidu, a China-based internet service provider, launched a chatbot named “Ernie” in its search engine in March 2023.

Amidst the increasing popularity of ChatGPT, Google has also started working on a chatbot named “Bard” based on its own language model, Lambda. The company is planning to launch more than 20 new AI-based products in 2023. In February 2023, Google invested about US$400 million in Anthropic AI, a US-based artificial intelligence startup, which is testing a new chatbot named Claude. Thus, the race to build an effective AI-enabled search engine has just begun, and things have to unfold a bit to learn more about how chatbots can modify web searches.

On the other hand, AI technologies such as ChatGPT are sure to leave an impact on how businesses operate. With the global economy slowing down, resulting in low business margins, many businesses are looking to cut down costs to increase profitability.

ChatGPT could be extremely beneficial to companies looking to automate various business tasks, such as customer support and content generation. The tool can be integrated into channels, including websites and voice assistants. While this sounds beneficial, there is also a likelihood of the technology displacing some jobs such as customer service representatives, copywriters, research analysts, etc.

However, ChatGPT will not be replacing the human workforce completely since many business tasks require creative and critical thinking skills and other traits such as empathy and emotional intelligence that only humans have. This technology is expected to pave the way for new opportunities in various fields, such as software engineering and data analysis, and allow employees to focus on more value-added tasks instead of routine, mundane tasks, ultimately boosting productivity.

EOS Perspective

With their remarkable ability to generate human-like conversations and high-quality content, generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, are sure to be touted as a game-changer for many businesses. The advancements in generative AI are expected to have a significant impact on various business tasks such as customer support, content creation, data analysis, marketing and sales, and even decision-making.

Investors are slowly taking note of the immense potential the technology holds. It is estimated that generative AI start-ups received equity funding totaling about US$2.6 billion across 110 deals in 2022, which echoes an increasing interest in the technology.

The adoption of generative AI technologies is poised to increase, especially in business processes where a human-like conversation is desirable. Industries such as e-commerce, retail, and travel are likely to embrace this technology to automate customer service tasks, reduce costs, and increase efficiency. In addition, generative AI is likely to become an indispensable part of industries such as finance and logistics, where high levels of accuracy and precision are required. Media and entertainment companies can also benefit from this technology to quickly generate content such as articles, videos, and audio.

That being said, generative AI is not without its risks, and the technology could be used to create fake and other discriminatory information. Hence, there is an inevitable need to ensure that generative AI models are trained and deployed in an ethical and responsible manner. Despite these challenges, there is increased research and significant activity going on in the field of generative AI, especially with regard to combining the capabilities of chatbots and traditional search engines.

The current chatbots will continue to evolve and will lead to the creation of even more advanced and sophisticated models. The popularity of generative AI tools such as ChatGPT is unlikely to wane, and the technology is here to stay, with the potential to create better prospects for business and a brighter future for society.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis May Just Turn into a Battle for Influence

Sri Lanka is currently facing its worst economic crisis since its independence and is the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to default on its external debt in over two decades. While the financial crisis is underpinned by political mismanagement, low tourism during COVID-19, and affected exports and payments due to the Ukraine-Russia war, growing Chinese debt in recent years is also considered to be a major factor in the country’s financial downfall. More so, with China withholding desired and critical support at this time, more questions are being raised over China’s relationship with Sri Lanka. This has provided India and to an extent, the West, with the perfect opportunity to strengthen its ties with the country and in turn limit China’s political and economic influence in the region.

In April 2022, the Sri Lankan economy witnessed an absolute collapse owing to skyrocketing inflation, shortage of essential goods such as fuel, food, and medicines, and foreign debt to the tune of US$50 billion with just US$2 billion in foreign reserves. The financial turmoil further spiraled into a political crisis with the president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, fleeing the country amidst strong public outcry.

There is no one cause for the freefall of the economy. However, the situation is largely underpinned by unforeseen factors such as halt in tourism earnings due to the pandemic, the Ukraine-Russia war, which resulted in blocked payments from Russia for tea exports, along with deep-rooted issues such as political corruption, favoritism, and weak policies.

An example of weak governance could be the 2019 tax cuts and 2021 ban on imports of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which forced majority of farmers to go organic overnight. While the ban on pesticides import was aimed at saving US$400 million that were spent annually on import of fertilizers (in addition to reducing the adverse effect of pesticides on health and environment), the move backfired as the ban led to a substantial drop in crop production. As a result, Sri Lanka had to spend US$450 million on rice imports to cover up for the 20% drop in rice production levels. Moreover, it saw a decline in tea exports by 18% due to limited production. To offset this loss by farmers, the government had to spend several hundred million dollars as compensation and subsidies for farmers who lost their livelihoods. While the policy was removed after only five months for some sectors such as tea production, the damage was done causing a huge dent to the economy.

However, one of the key reasons for the country’s downfall is attributed to the government’s close alliance with China and to several economically unviable infrastructure projects that were green-lighted with China’s financial support and influence. Currently China is Sri Lanka’s biggest unilateral creditor.

Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis May Just Turn into a Battle for Influence by EOS Intelligence

Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis May Just Turn into a Battle for Influence by EOS Intelligence

The Rajpaksa family, which has dominated Sri Lankan politics for the last two decades, has been a close ally of China, and has favored investments from the country at the cost of relations with India and other nations that have for long warned Sri Lanka (and other Asian and African countries) about China’s debt-trap diplomacy. Over the last 15 years or so, Sri Lanka’s government has authorized several Chinese infrastructure projects including some that were considered economically unviable.

One such example is the Sri Lankan Hambantota Port that was built by China Harbor Engineering Company on a loan of about US$1.26 billion taken by Sri Lanka from China. The project, which was also touted to be commercially unviable from the very start by several experts and was cleared primarily because of close ties between China and the Rajpaksa family, was a commercial failure. In 2017, the port was handed over to the Chinese government for a 99-year lease due to default in loan payment. Similarly, the Hambantota airport is considered to be one of the emptiest airports in the world and has not been attracting traffic as anticipated, while the Nelum Kuluna towers (touted to be the tallest building in South Asia), stand empty. This has resulted in huge debt to the Chinese government from projects that failed to generate revenue for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka owes 10% of its total foreign debt to China alone.

Now in the midst of its worst financial crisis and ridden of the old political regime, Sri Lanka is realizing the burden of the foreign debt it has to China. Especially at the moment, when the support received from its once most valued partner has been lukewarm at best.

China has largely maintained silence on the current economic crisis faced by Sri Lanka as well as on the political turmoil and fall of the Rajapaksa clan. It has adopted a ‘wait and watch’ approach, which is being criticized globally. More so, China has only provided minimal relief support to the nation in crisis. To put it into perspective, China has provided only US$74 million of aid and has sent a large shipment of rice to Sri Lanka in response to the large-scale monetary assistance requested by the Rajapaksas, before their departure. Moreover, China has turned a deaf ear to Sri Lankan government’s plead for loan restructuring and is yet to consider the request for an additional financial aid of US$4 billion (which encompasses US$1 billion loan, US$1.5 billion credit line for Chinese imports and US$1.5 billion in bilateral currency swap). Furthermore, China has not cleared its stance on IMF’s relief package for Sri Lanka. While IMF is designing a relief package for Sri Lanka, it needs consent from all its creditors to write off some loans so that the relief sum is used for economic revival instead of just servicing foreign debt. While Sri Lanka is urging the IMF and China to work together, it is going to be a long round of negotiations.

On the other hand, India has been increasing its influence on its neighbor and has provided US$3.8 billion in monetary relief to Sri Lanka. In addition, it is willingly working with IMF to restructure loans to provide debt relief to the country in need. It is also collaborating with Japan to assist Sri Lanka during the crisis. Sri Lanka is of strategic importance to India as it connects several of its key trade routes to Africa and Europe. With China having close ties with Sri Lanka in the past, it had built a strong foothold in the Indian Ocean, which was threatening to India and led to a geopolitical rivalry between India and China.

This financial crisis comes as an opportunity to India to replace China as Sri Lanka’s preferred partner. In March 2022, the Indian government signed a deal with Sri Lanka to develop hybrid power projects in northern parts of the country after China suspended a similar project in December 2021, stating security reasons. Around the same time, India was awarded a US$12 million contract to build wind farms on three small islands in the Palk Strait (which lies between southern India and Sri Lanka) after the project was taken away from a Chinese firm. In March 2022, India’s National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) also signed an agreement with Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) to jointly set up a solar power plant in Sampur, Sri Lanka.

Moreover, in July 2022, several investment proposals to strengthen the economic ties between India and Sri Lanka were discussed between officials from both countries. The key sectors that were identified for investments by India in Sri Lanka include renewable energy, hydrocarbon, ports and infrastructure, IT, and hospitality. The talks also encompassed the development of the Trincomalee Port on Sri Lanka’s northeastern coast and a proposal to use Indian Rupee for transactions in Sri Lanka. In August 2022, the Sri Lanka government also gave an approval to Lanka’s Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC, a subsidiary of India’s Indian Oil Corporation) to open 50 new fuel stations in the country. While LIOC already operates 216 fuel stations in Sri Lanka, it plans to invest US$5.5 million in the proposed expansion. In a separate deal in December 2021, LIOC gained control of 75 oil tanks in a strategically significant storage facility near Trincomalee.

For China, on the other hand, this crisis presents a precarious situation. While it holds 10% of Sri Lanka’s debt, the perception is that China is one of the key reasons for Sri Lanka’s downfall. With China’s other BRI partners, such as Pakistan, heading towards a similar fate, it is important for China to understand the grip it has in deciding the fate of countries over which it holds such significant power. At the same time, it will not like to lose the control it holds over this region to India that would gladly step in to displace China as the preferred partner.

EOS Perspective

The Sri Lankan crisis and its management is being closely observed by several global economies. While China has been Sri Lanka’s prominent partner over the last decade and a half, a new regime in Sri Lanka, China’s tepid response, and India’s support may lead to a shift in allegiances in the region. However, it is still early to offer any definite comments. China still holds significant influence in the region. This can be seen in the recent events, when in August 2022, China docked its ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship, Yuan Wang 5, (also termed ‘spy’ ship) at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port for six days, despite significant resistance and raised security concerns by India. Therefore, while India is trying to get closer with Sri Lanka, it is very difficult to match China’s control over the region. That being said, there is definitely an opening to improve both political and business relations with Sri Lanka for India. While politically Sri Lanka is of strong geopolitical significance, the country can also prove to be a valuable economic partner with regards to growing trade as well as large scale power and infrastructure projects in the long run.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Africa’s Mining Industry Gaining Momentum

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Africa is home to 30% of the world’s mineral reserves, 8% of the world’s natural gas, and 12% of the world’s oil reserves. Despite being endowed with abundant resources, the continent accounts for only 5% of the global mining production. Mining in Africa was often overlooked because of the unstable political environment, opaque regulations, and poor enforcement capacity. Despite these challenges, investments in Africa’s mineral wealth have been steadily increasing in recent years. The massive swings in mineral demand due to the accelerated clean energy transition along with the rising geopolitical tensions have made countries across the globe diversify their sources of minerals and venture into highly challenged regions such as Africa.

Clean energy – A major force driving mineral extraction in Africa

The globally accelerating clean energy transition is set to unleash unprecedented mineral demand in the coming decades. Demand for minerals such as lithium, copper, cobalt, nickel, and zinc is expected to increase exponentially since they are required in the production of batteries, electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar photovoltaic plants, all of which are the cornerstone of clean energy development. Among all clean energy technologies, electric vehicle manufacturing and energy storage are likely to account for about half of the global mineral demand over the next two decades.

Lithium

The African continent hosts many of the global mineral reserves required for manufacturing electric vehicles and batteries. Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are among the top ten countries with the largest lithium reserves in the world. Lithium is a crucial component of lithium-ion batteries, which are used in smartphones and electric vehicles. In Zimbabwe, a mine named Bikita holds more than 11 million tons of lithium ore. Despite being bestowed with massive lithium reserves, the region is largely unexplored due to the lack of investment. However, as the lithium demand is on the rise, the government of Zimbabwe has been actively promoting the development of lithium mines to attract foreign investments. At the same time, an increasing interest in electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries is driving the lithium demand, pushing many global economies to invest in lithium mining. One such example is an investment from December 2021, when a Chinese-owned mineral production and processing company, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, acquired a 100% stake in the Zimbabwean Arcadia lithium mine.

Cobalt

Cobalt is another important metal, used in energy storage technologies and electric vehicle production. Most lithium-ion batteries depend on cobalt, which is a by-product of copper and nickel production. The Democratic Republic of the Congo supplies almost 70% of global cobalt, while Australia and the Philippines supply 4.2% and 3.3% of global cobalt, respectively. The growth of the electric vehicle industry has driven major cobalt producers to ramp up the output at multiple mine sites in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Graphite

Like lithium and cobalt, graphite is another significant mineral used in electric vehicle manufacturing. A lithium-ion battery needs 10 times more graphite than lithium. China produces around 82% of the global graphite, followed by Brazil at 7%. Due to the increasing demand, many countries with graphite reserves are launching their graphite mining projects. Mozambique is expected to increase its flake graphite 2021 production levels fivefold by 2030. The country has around 20% to 40% of total global graphite reserves.

Copper

Copper also holds a significant position in a range of minerals used in renewable energy technologies. It plays a vital role in grid infrastructure due to its efficiency, reliability, and conductivity. Around 60% of copper demand is driven by wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicle manufacturing. Increasing copper demand along with the rising global copper shortage has made many global producers expand their production and venture into new regions for mining. Consequently, Africa’s Zambia, one of the largest copper producers in the world, has attracted a significant number of investments recently. The country aims to take its annual copper production levels from 830,000 metric tons in 2020 to 3 million metric tons in the next ten years.

Africa also hosts many other mineral reserves such as platinum, manganese, nickel, and chromium, which are used in a variety of clean energy technologies. The continent is poised to take advantage of the growing demand for these minerals and has already started to attract significant foreign investments.

Africa’s Mining Industry Gaining Momentum by EOS Intelligence

High commodity prices and rising geopolitical tensions favor Africa’s mining

Africa has experienced a boom in mining since 2000 when the commodities super cycle (a phenomenon where commodities trade for higher prices for a long period) began. Along with the commodity boom, the African mining industry has grown substantially, attracting investments in exploration, acquiring new concessions, and opening new mines. The recently spiking prices of commodities such as aluminum, zinc, nickel, copper, gold, and coal are further fueling investments across the continent.

The Russian war on Ukraine further benefits Africa as many countries started to diversify their supply chains away from Russia. In March 2022, the USA and the UK imposed a ban on Russian oil imports. Europe also has plans to cut its Russian gas imports by two-thirds before the end of 2022. These could lead to supply shortages of oil and gas in many countries. Russia also supplies 7% of the world’s nickel, 10% of the world’s platinum, and 25-30% of the world’s palladium, which are critical to the globally accelerating clean energy transition. The US and European governments are looking closely at further sanctions against Russia which could disrupt these critical minerals supply. The situation has made many developed countries diversify and secure their sources of minerals. This will be a huge opportunity for Africa to promote its resources.

Massive African gold reserves attract global gold producers

Gold is often perceived as a safe haven asset and its demand is constantly rising, pushing major global gold producers to ramp up their production. Additionally, as many of the global gold reserves are depleting, mining companies find it imperative to explore new gold deposits across the world. Interestingly, the Birimian greenstone belt of West Africa hosts huge deposits of gold but remains highly underexplored. Many leading global gold producers started exploring the region due to the favorable mining regulations and mining codes implemented recently. Between 2009 and 2019, approximately 1,400 metric tons of gold reserves were discovered in West Africa, while about 1,000 metric tons and 680 metric tons were found in Canada and Ecuador, respectively. A total of US$470 million was invested in West Africa’s gold resource exploration in 2020. This was the third-largest global gold exploration expenditure in 2020, behind that of Australia and Canada.

Investments in Africa’s mining

Countries such as Australia, China, Canada, the UK, and the USA have invested heavily in Africa’s mineral extraction over the years. Emerging economies such as India, Russia, and Brazil also have sizeable investments in Africa’s mining, creating more competition for resources. Among all the countries that have invested, China has demonstrated a significant presence across the continent. The rise of industrialization in China has driven increased demand for mineral exploration and extraction in Africa over the past decades. China’s investment in exploring African mineral resources multiplied to a remarkable extent between 2005 and 2015. In 2021, China’s total outbound foreign direct investment (FDI) was US$145.2 billion, of which a quarter was dedicated to African mining.

Many of the mining projects in Africa are funded by international stock exchanges. For instance, in 2015, Deloitte analyzed the funds of 29 major mining projects which were in development across the continent. The Toronto Stock Exchange funded 28% of these projects, followed by the Hong Kong Stock Exchange funding 17%, and the National Stock Exchange of India funding 10% of the projects.

A 2019 report published by PricewaterhouseCoopers states that, in 2018, total mining deals in Africa amounted to US$48 billion. Out of this, West Africa received the largest share of investment worth US$16.2 billion for its oil, gas, and gold reserves, followed by Southern Africa, which received US$14.7 billion worth of investment for its gold, platinum, nickel, and cobalt. East Africa and Central Africa received the least amount of mining investment.

Challenges

Asia constitutes approximately 60% of the world’s total mining production, followed by North America (14%). Africa, despite being endowed with abundant mineral reserves, constitutes only 5% of the global mining production. The continent has failed to achieve real mining expansion due to many challenges prevailing in the continent. One of the prime challenges is the poor infrastructure (rail and port) that causes trade blockages. High levels of political instability, unstable regulations, and corruption are other significant challenges hindering mining across Africa. Other challenges impacting the African mining industry include poor geological data management, illegal mining, lack of mineral processing facilities, unreliable power supply, and weak local markets.

EOS Perspective

With the world’s increasing appetite for clean energy, Africa has a chance to establish itself as a key player in the mining industry. Significant investments in extraction and exploration are required to get the most out of the continent’s resources, and this is happening to a certain extent. Most significantly, the countries involved must build a robust value chain to promote industrialization and boost their economies, instead of just supplying raw materials. Governments should consider fostering joint ventures and partnerships with foreign companies to bridge the technical skill gaps that prevail in the continent. The industry itself must ensure that it shares the mining benefits with the people, thereby improving their welfare.

The African countries must also address challenges such as poor infrastructure to participate effectively in the value chain. Many projects are already underway to boost the transport infrastructure. China has built significant inroads in Africa under its Belt and Road Initiative. Deloitte estimates approximately US$50 billion would be invested in over 830 infrastructure projects between 2003 and 2030.

Along with infrastructure development, strong governance, and a stable and reliable regulatory environment are critical to attracting foreign investments. Several governments across Africa are revising mining codes and regulations and providing tax incentives to stimulate manufacturing. The mining industry is at a critical stage where it needs to satisfy an increased demand for minerals while also curbing the environmental impact of mining operations. This process seems to be complex, but it also provides many opportunities. For instance, mining companies can utilize the adoption of renewable, energy-efficient systems for power generation. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation, and big data could be adopted to mitigate rising costs.

There is still a long way for the region to achieve the desired mining growth and economic development, with multiple challenges across the entire value chain. However, with stronger governance, more stable regulations, and considerable foreign investments, Africa could position itself as one of the largest mining economies in the world. The opportunity for Africa is huge, but it needs to be utilized properly.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence 1 Comment

China’s BRI Hits a Road Bump as Global Economies Partner to Challenge It

In 2013, China launched its infamous Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has gone about developing several infrastructure projects across developing and underdeveloped countries across the globe. However, BRI has faced significant criticism as it brought heavy debt for several countries that are unable to pay the loans. Moreover, it is believed that China exercises significant political influence on these countries, thereby building a sort of dominance across the globe. To counter this, several developed economies have come together to launch alternative projects and partnerships that facilitate the development of infrastructure across developing/underdeveloped countries without exerting significant financial and political bindings on them. However, the main aim of these deals seems to be to keep a check on China’s growing might across the Asian and African continent.


Read our previous related Perspectives: OBOR – What’s in Store for Multinational Companies? and China’s Investments in Africa Pave Way for Its Dominance


China’s BRI program has signed and undertaken several projects since its inception in 2013. As per a 2020 database by Refinitiv (a global provider of market data and infrastructure), the BRI has signed agreements with about 100 countries on projects ranging from railways, ports, highways, to other infrastructure projects and has about 2,600 projects under its belt with an estimated value of US$3.7 billion. This highlights the vast reach and influence of China under this project and its growing financial and political power across the globe.

China’s BRI – looked as a debt trap

Over the years, BRI initiative has been criticized for being a debt-trap for developing and underdeveloped nations, by imposing heavy debt through expansive projects over the host countries, the non-payment of which may lead to significant economic and political burden on them. While the USA, the EU, India, and Japan have been some of the most vocal critics of the BRI program, several participating countries now voice a similar message as they have enveloped in high debt under these projects.

In one such example, the Sri Lankan Hambantota Port was built under the BRI scheme by China Harbor Engineering Company on a loan of nearly US$1.26 billion taken by Sri Lanka from China. The project was questioned for its commercial viability from the very beginning, however, given China’s close relationship with the Sri Lankan government, the project pushed through. As expected, the project was commercially unsuccessful, which along with unfavorable re-payment plan resulted in default by Sri Lanka. Thus, in 2017, the Chinese government eventually took charge of the port and its neighboring 15,000 acres region under a 99-year lease. This transfer has given China an intelligence, commercial, and strategic foothold in a critical water route.

In a similar case, Montenegro is also facing a difficult time repaying its debt to China for a highway project under BRI. In 2014, Montenegro contracted with China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) for the construction of a highway to offer a better connection between Montenegro and Serbia. However, the feasibility of the project was questionable. The Montenegro government took a loan of US$1.59 billion (85% of the first phase of the project) from China Exim Bank at a 2% interest rate over the next 20 years. However, the project, which is being undertaken by Chinese companies and workers using Chinese materials, has faced unplanned difficulties in completion, has put significant financial pressure on the Montenegro government. This is likely to further degrade the country’s economy, delay its integration with the EU, and leave it vulnerable to Chinese political influence. While the EU has refused to finance the loan altogether, it is offering special grants and preferential loans to the country from the European Investment Bank to facilitate the completion of the highway.

Moreover, as per a 2018 report by Center for Global Development, eight BRI recipient countries – Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, and Tajikistan – were at a high risk of debt distress due to BRI loans. These countries are likely to face rising debt-to-GDP ratios of more than 50%, of which at least 40% of external debt owed to China in association to BRI related projects.

Owing to the growing concern over increasing Chinese investment debt, several countries are now looking to reduce their exposure to Chinese investments and financing. In 2018, the Myanmar government, in an attempt to avoid falling deep into China’s debt-trap and becoming over-reliant on the country, scaled down China-Myanmar Kyaukpyu port project size from US$7.5 billion to US$1.3 billion.

Similarly, in 2018, the Malaysian government cancelled three BRI projects – the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and two gas pipelines, the Multi-Product Pipeline (MPP), and Trans-Sabah Gas Pipeline (TSGP) as these projects significantly inclined towards increasing the Malaysian debt to China to complete these projects.

China’s long-term ally, Pakistan, also opted out from China’s BRI in 2019, exposing some serious flaws with the project. In 2015, the two countries unveiled a US$62 billion flagship project under BRI, called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). While it was started with an ambition to improve Pakistan’s infrastructure (especially with regards to energy), this deal resulted in severe debt woes for Pakistan as the nation started to face a balance-of-payment crisis. This in turn resulted in Pakistan turning to International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a three-year US$6.3 billion bailout package. Pakistani officials have even claimed that the CPEC project is equally (if not more) beneficial for China in terms of gaining a strategic advantage over India and by extension the USA. Thus, given its partial failure and increasing financial pressure on Pakistan, many ongoing projects under CPEC have been stalled or being rebooted in a slimmed-down manner.

Similarly, more recently, in April 2021, Australia scrapped off its deal it had with China under BRI, stating the deal to be over ambitious and inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy.

Developed nations come together to offer alternatives

Given the push against BRI, several developed nations have come out with alternative infrastructure plans, either individually or in partnership with each other. The key purpose of this is to not only offer more viable options to developing and underdeveloped nations but also to keep a check on China’s growing global influence.

In one such move, in May 2015, Japan launched a ‘Partnership for Quality Infrastructure’ (PQI) plan, which came out as a direct competitor to China’s BRI. The PQI Japan (in collaboration with Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other organizations and countries) aimed at providing nearly US$110 billion for ‘quality infrastructure investment in Asia from 2016 to 2020. Although, on one side, this initiative is intended to secure new markets for Japanese businesses and strength export competitiveness to further bolster its economic growth, on the other side, politically PQI is a keen measure to counter China’s influence over its neighboring countries.

Just like Japan, India has also been a staunch critic of China’s BRI as it feels that the latter uses the BRI to expand its unilateral power in the Indo-Pacific region. Thus, to counter it, India, formed an alliance with Japan in November 2016, called ‘Asia-Africa Growth Corridor’ (AAGC).

The alliance aims at improving infrastructure and digital connectivity in Africa and connecting the continent with India and other Oceanic and South-East Asian countries through a sea passageway. This is expected to boost economic collaborations of India and Japan with African countries by enhancing the growth and interconnectedness between Asia and Africa.

The alliance claims to focus on providing a more affordable alternative to China’s BRI with a smaller carbon footprint, which has been another major concern in BRI project execution across Indo-Pacific region. The emphasis has been put on providing quality infrastructure while taking into account economic efficiency and durability, inclusiveness, safety and disaster-resilience, and sustainability. The countries do not have an obligation of hiring only Japanese/Indian companies for the infrastructure development projects and are open to the bids from the global infrastructure companies.

In more recent times, in May 2021, the EU and India have joined hands for a comprehensive infrastructure deal, called the ‘Connectivity Partnership’. This deal aims at strengthening cooperation on transport, energy, digital, and people-to-people contacts between India and the EU and developing countries in regions across Africa, Central Asia, and the Indo-Pacific region. Moreover, it aims at improving connectivity between the EU and India by undertaking infrastructure development projects across Europe, Asia, and Africa. It also focuses on providing a more reliable platform to the already ongoing projects between the EU and India’s private and public sectors.

While the two partners claim otherwise, the deal seems to be their collective answer to China’s BRI and its growing influence in the Asian, African, and European belt. Unlike BRI, the EU-India Connectivity Partnership aims to follow a clear rule-based approach to have greater involvement from the private sector with backend support from the public sector of both sides. This protects the host country against heavy debt and in turn restricts the level of political influence that both sides may have on the host country. This advantage over China’s infrastructure deal makes this project a serious competitor to the BRI in this region as host countries are most vary of falling into a debt-trap with China.

Another recent initiative to dethrone the BRI has been the ‘Build Back Better World’ (B3W), which has been undertaken by the Group of Seven (G7) countries in June 2021. This project, led by the USA, is focused on infrastructure development in low- and medium-income countries, and aims to accomplish infrastructure projects worth US$40 trillion in these countries by 2035. Further, the project is intended to mobilize private-sector capital in areas such as climate, health, digital technology along with gender equity and equality involving investments from financial institutions of the countries involved.

This project claims to be based on the principles of ‘transparency and inclusion’ and intends to cease China’s rising global influence (through BRI) as it aims to make B3W comparatively more value-driven, market-led, and a higher-standard infrastructure partnership for the host country. To ensure inclusivity and success of the project, the USA invited other countries such as India, Australia, South Korea, and South Africa to join the project. However, considering the nascent stage of the B3W development, the proceedings and details of the project are not explicitly clear, however, given that its intention is to help the USA compete with the BRI, it is expected to be well-funded, robust, and inclusive.

EOS Perspective

China’s BRI started on a very high note, garnering multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects across a host of Asia, African, and European countries. However, over the last couple of years, increasing number of countries have become wary of its inherent problems, such as looming debt, increasing Chinese influence, and incompletion of projects. This has helped shift the momentum towards other developed countries that have for long wanted to counter China’s growing global influence. Using this opportunity, Japan, India, the EU, and the USA have come up with alternative infrastructure deals to compete with the BRI.

That being said, BRI will not be easy to shove aside as China has been in this game for several years now and has a significant time advantage. While countries such as India can try to compete, they do not have the financial might to take up projects that are strategically important and commercially viable.

Further, several of the alternative projects, such as India-EU Connectivity Partnership and G7 B3W aim to significantly involve the private sector for investments. While this is good news for the host countries where the project will be undertaken, private players will definitely be more concerned about financial viability of their investment and may not be able to match the BRI investment values, debt rates, etc. Moreover, geographic location puts China in an advantage for projects in the Asian region (when compared with the USA and the EU).

Therefore, while the attempt to dethrone China’s BRI has gained significant momentum and found proper backing, it is something that cannot happen in the short term. However, given the growing anti-China sentiment, it can be expected that with the right partnerships and project terms, BRI may start facing some serious competition from global powers across the globe.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Clean Beauty: Next Stop – China

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China is one of the most promising markets for cosmetics and skin care companies globally, only being second to the USA in size. Despite its size and potential, the Chinese beauty market has remained relatively closed to several international players that make cruelty-free and vegan products. This is because of Chinese regulations that required compulsory animal testing pre- and post-market entry for international brands. However, in 2021, the Chinese government squashed the mandated animal testing requirement and introduced other certification methods. While this opens the market for a plethora of players who have till now shied away from entering the Chinese market, steering through the Chinese turf may still not be very simple.

China’s new cosmetic regulations easing entry for imported products

China is currently the second-largest cosmetics market globally, and has an immense potential to grow further. As per China’s Ministry of Commerce, the value of imported cosmetics grew by 30% in 2020, underlining the strong potential for international brands in the Chinese market. At the same time, several international companies have kept their distance from this US$57 billion beauty and personal care market, owing to stringent regulations.

However, in 2021, the government introduced new rulings for cosmetics and beauty products, which have altered the regulatory landscape in China. As per Chinese regulations, cosmetics are divided into two categories, special and general cosmetics, and the two are subject to different pre-market registration requirements.

As per the new regulations, while the former will continue to be subject to pre-registration with National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) before being allowed to be manufactured or imported, general cosmetics now only require filing documentation of the product with the authority. Earlier, the general category also required prior approval before import.

In addition to streamlining the process for the general category, the government has reduced the number of special product categories from nine to six. As of 2021, the only product categories under the special category encompass hair dye products, hair perm products, spots removal and skin whitening products, sunscreen products, and hair loss prevention products. The streamlining of the registration process for general category is expected to have a direct impact on the cost of warehousing and logistics for global brands as it is likely to quicken the import cycle.

Another regulation that was a deterrent to entering the Chinese market was that international beauty companies were expected to perform animal testing for their products both pre-and post-market entry. This created an issue for the growing number of global clean beauty brands who position themselves as vegan or cruelty-free. These brands could either choose to dilute their brand positioning by undertaking animal testing for the Chinese region or had to keep away from this goldmine market.

However, these companies did have one channel to enter this market, and that was through cross-border e-commerce sites, such as Alibaba’s Tmall. Although this resulted in a limited presence as the cross-border market size has government restrictions and is about one-tenth the size of the domestic market. Moreover, physical retail still continues to dominate the Chinese market with regards to cosmetics sale, with growing popularity of multi-brand stores.

As per the new regulations, global companies do not require animal testing anymore before entering the Chinese market. This will level the playing field between international imports and domestic brands, as domestic brands have been exempt from animal testing since 2014.

However, there are a few conditions to be met by companies looking to bypass animal testing. The brand must provide relevant quality certifications from their country of origin, the product should not be aimed at children or babies, the product should not contain any raw material that is not included in China’s approved list of raw materials, and the applicant brand and its Chinese representative should not have been flagged as requiring further supervision by the authorities.

Clean Beauty Next Stop China by EOS Intelligence

Companies responding to the new regulations

This opens the door for several international players who position themselves as cruelty-free. In May 2021, Australian clean beauty brand, Frank Body, welcomed a closed investment from Chinese private equity firm, EverYi Capital, which put the value of the brand at about US$74 million (AUD 100 million). The investment, which includes the creation of a Shanghai team for the brand, will help the company find a strong footing in the Chinese market in the light of the latest animal testing relaxation. The brand is expected to enter the market over the next 12 to 18 months, with prospects of opening a physical store.

In a similar move, Brazilian beauty conglomerate, Natura & Co., mentioned during its 2020 fiscal year results that it is looking to expand into China with its brands, Aesop and The Body Shop. The two brands were expected to complete their registration in China by first half of 2021, with Aesop expected to open its first store in Shanghai by the end of 2021, while The Body Shop is scheduled to open its first store in 2022 (however, there is no information regarding the completion of the registration process yet). While these brands have been available in China through cross-border e-commerce, they expect that physical retail presence will help establish a strong foothold in this growing market.

Nerissa Low, founder of Singapore-based organic and cruelty-free cosmetic company, Liht Organics, has also welcomed the decision and expressed interest in entering the offline Chinese market. Liht Organics, which entered China in 2020 through cross-border e-commerce, gained significant traction in the Chinese market. However, the brand refused to enter the offline market when approached by several Chinese distributors, as the company did not want to compromise on its cruelty-free ethos. Given the change in regulations, the founder has expressed interest in expanding beyond cross-border e-commerce considering the potential in the offline market and is looking for the right partner and opportunity.

Moreover, popular international brands such as Drunk Elephant, Fenty Beauty, and The Ordinary, which are currently limited to be selling through Alibaba Tmall, are expected to enter the Chinese market and establish a physical presence there. While a lot of these brands might wait to establish physical stores and may penetrate the market through mainland e-commerce websites such as Tmall (instead of Tmall Global) to reach a larger audience, presence in multi-brand retail stores or opening pop-up stores will be the natural next step.

Despite new regulations, challenges remain

However, entering the Chinese market (despite the abolishment of the animal testing rules) will be no easy feat. Owing to the recent changes in regulations, the companies need to keep up higher standards in terms of product quality, marketing, and operations. Moreover, some of these regulations have made it harder for foreign players to comply as they require a complete overhaul of their local marketing strategies and operational functions.

Firstly, as per the new regulations, the NMPA of China has made it mandatory for international companies to have a domestic agent who must be based in China. This agent will be responsible for the registration process, which includes massive paperwork and approval procedures. Moreover, these agents will be held completely accountable for the company’s products and operations in China and will be answerable and responsible for any safety concerns arising in the product. In addition, they will be responsible for ensuring that the product, its ingredients, and its marketing are compliant with the Chinese regulations. Thus it will be a challenge for foreign players to find a Chinese agent to fill this capacity as in reality, such a person/company may have no impact on how the ingredients or final product are made. This is also definitely expected to increase costs for the company.

The government has also imposed harsher penalties for non-compliance and various violations such as misleading advertising, non-compliance of new cosmetic naming guidelines, non-submission of approved hygiene license and certificates, etc. This makes it critical for companies that the Chinese agent is well aware of all regulations and is thorough with all registration requirements as violations can also result in cancellation of license.

Secondly, while the removal of animal testing for imported cosmetics is a welcome news for a great number of global cosmetic brands, the policies put in place of this pose to be equally challenging and complex to steer through. Under the new regulations, cosmetics falling under the general category require a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certificate to avoid animal testing. These GMP certificates need to be issued from the brand’s local government regulatory department. Considering that different countries will have different authorities and templates for issuing these certificates, there is a lot of ambiguity regarding what is acceptable and what is not.

Moreover, cosmetic companies need to provide a manufacturing quality management system (QMS) for each individual ingredient used in the cosmetic formulations. This requires companies to collect information on each and every ingredient manufacturer and supplier, including their quality specification documents and certificates. This is a tedious process since a company may use ingredients from several manufacturers for a single product. In addition, in case a company plans to change a supplier, it will have to undergo this process and update the information with the Chinese authorities for the new supplier, which is both money and time consuming.

On the one hand, it is true that the exemption from animal testing has given an opportunity of many cruelty-free brands to enter the Chinese market. However, on the other hand, the lengthy procedure and strict scrutiny over the process is undermining the overall market entry process for mid to small size companies. Non-compliance with these certifications will reverse the relaxation on animal testing for the companies that don’t meet the new procedural requirements and then their products will need to undergo animal testing for selling in China.

Furthermore, despite getting the green light to enter the Chinese market, the cruelty-free cosmetic companies would still need to deal with another challenge arising from the consumer side. While the clean beauty segment is definitely growing, it is currently not a major factor in purchasing decisions by consumers, unlike in the USA. Chinese consumers seek products that are functional and have healthier, milder, and more reliable formulas. Hence, to ensure a right placement of their cruelty-free products, companies would need to undergo distinctive marketing strategies to grab a good consumer base. Education and awareness regarding cruelty-free products and creating a substantial market for such products may require significant marketing funds.

In addition to the changes in regulations with regards to animal testing, the Chinese government added new regulations regarding product labelling. As per the new regulations, the labels must have corresponding Chinese explanation to everything mentioned and they must a have larger font size than the explanation in foreign language. Also, the label should contain the Chinese name and special cosmetics registration certificate numbers, product implementation number, name and address of the person responsible in China and of the manufacturer along with the production license number.

Adding to these is a ban on use of any kind of medical term, names/pictures/endorsement of celebrities in the medical field, and implication of medical effects to avoid any misleading of information. Although all these changes are implemented in order to curb the market of counterfeit products, they are expected to make the product approval process lengthier, as now companies would be required to undergo a comprehensive regulatory review of the guidelines to ensure hassle-free entry into the Chinese market.

EOS Perspective

While the new regulations provided a pathway for several foreign clean beauty players to enter the Chinese market, the process still requires a lot of navigation, especially since a lot of rulings regarding safety requirements, GMP authorities, and template remain ambiguous.

Moreover, since these certificates need to be derived from the country of origin, the country’s overall political and business equation with China might also play a subtle role in their acceptance by the Chinese authorities. For instance, China has not yet declared the jurisdictions that will be recognized for the QMS certificate. Given the current political friction with Australia and the USA, the Chinese authorities may not accept QMS certificates from these countries at the moment. Thus brands from these countries may have to look to find suppliers or shift part production to other countries to be able to enter the Chinese market.

While currently there is no clarity regarding what terms and jurisdictions will initially be accepted for the GMP and QMS certificates, it is expected that clarity on the matter will be provided by the government shortly. In the long run, these regulations are a move in the right direction. As the government has overall simplified the filing process and focused on quality and safety measures, the new regulations are a positive development for international cosmetic companies, especially clean beauty brands that have been unable to enter the second largest beauty market in the world.

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