It could also negatively impact African nations that produce battery materials.
The United States has a Free Trade Agreement in place with only one African country, Morocco. Yet the continent is a key copper producer and Democratic Republic of Congo produces most of the world’s cobalt.
Battery materials and trade are set to be a focus at next week’s US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington where President Joe Biden will meet presidents of African countries including Congo.
“The IRA was intended to push out China, and what it’s ended up doing is pushing out the DRC, and the EU, and South Korea,” said Indigo Ellis, managing director at consultancy Africa Matters Limited, who will attend the Dec. 13-15 summit.
Under IRA, US carmakers will get tax credits if they source at least 40% of battery materials domestically or from American free-trade partners. This risks carmakers replacing Congolese cobalt with Australian, Canadian, Moroccan, or US cobalt.
Congo produced 74% of the world’s mined cobalt last year while the next-biggest single producer, Australia, was responsible for just 3%, according to a Cobalt Institute report.
An adviser to Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi said a USA-DRC Free Trade Agreement “is an option for the medium to long-term, but in the short term other avenues will be explored”.
A spokesperson for the US Trade Representative (USTR) said “we look forward to discussing ways to strengthen and deepen our trade and investment ties with our partners throughout Africa” during the summit.
The IRA aims to boost US mining and processing, which some companies fear could come at the expense of value-added processing in Africa.
“The West needs to work with us to build some value-add,” said George Roach, CEO of Premier African Minerals, which has a lithium project in Zimbabwe.
His is one of many projects across sub-Saharan Africa aiming to produce battery materials like lithium, nickel and graphite.
Joe Walsh, managing director at Australia-listed Lepidico, which is building a lithium mine in Namibia and chemical plant in Abu Dhabi, said the IRA makes the United States a more attractive location for a planned second plant.
“The US is not going to be able to incentivize the development of a significant battery raw material production base of its own without ruffling a few feathers along the way.”
(By Helen Reid, Nelson Banya, Sonia Rolley, Nuzulack Dausen, Ernest Scheyder, Daphne Psaledakis, Chris Mfula, Manuel Mucari and Nyasha Nyaungwa; Editing by Pratima Desai and David Evans)