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A lithium mining site in the Atacama Desert in Calama, Chile 

The Korean government will start securing core minerals such as lithium and rare earths overseas to lower the nation’s dependence on certain countries, including China, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) announced on Feb. 27. The government will also increase the recycling of used minerals.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), demand for key minerals used in high-tech industries is expected to increase up to several dozen times by 2040. Their supply chain stability will inevitably determine the survival of the Korean industry.

However, Korea imports 95 percent of its mineral demand from overseas countries. Moreover, as of 2021, imports of lithium carbonate were concentrated in Chile (82 percent) and 97 percent of cobalt sulfate imported from China. Accordingly, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced a plan to ease dependence on imports from specific countries and make the most of mineral resources in Korea.

The Korean government has selected 33 core minerals such as copper and tungsten that needs managing in terms of economic security. Among them, it will intensively manage ten strategic core minerals such as lithium, nickel, and rare earths which are essential to production of semiconductors, secondary batteries, and electric vehicles, will be managed first and foremost. Its goal is to lower the current 80 percent of dependence on the 10 strategic minerals’ imports from specific countries to 50 percent by 2030. It also decided to raise the recycling rate of these minerals from 2 percent to 20 percent during the same period.

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