A dispute between state-owned Gecamines and its joint-venture partner at a Congolese cobalt mine that sells to Glencore Plc threatens to halt the supply of as much as 4 percent of the metal within two months.
Jersey-registered GTL, a joint venture between Gecamines and closely held Groupe Forrest International, has processed the hill of mine waste that looms over the southern Congolese mining town of Lubumbashi since 2001, producing as much as 5,000 metric tons of cobalt a year. The state-owned miner has blocked GTL’s access to the site since March 23, according to Groupe Forrest Chief Executive Officer Malta Forrest.
“Gecamines has blocked our access stating that it believes we have exceeded the limits set in our contract,” Forrest said in an interview April 15 in Lubumbashi. “It’s simply not true. Despite our requests Gecamines provided no evidence for their calculations.”
The company petitioned the commercial court in the Belgian capital, Brussels, which has jurisdiction over GTL’s purchasing agreement from Gecamines, to reopen access to the site and appoint an independent expert to adjudicate on the dispute. The case will be heard on Thursday, Forrest said. Gecamines declined to comment on questions sent by email.
Congo is the world’s biggest source of cobalt. Demand for the metal, a key ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries powering everything from Apple Inc.’s iPhones to Tesla Inc.’s new Model 3 electric car, has resulted in prices more than doubling in the past eight months. Glencore, the world’s largest cobalt miner, produced 28,300 tons of the metal last year from its own mines, 24,500 tons of which came from its Mutanda Mining project in Congo. It has also bought GTL’s output since 2015.