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Leveraging lithium and nickel stocks to boost the EV industry



An employee works on a production line of lithium batteries at the workshop of a new energy lithium battery industrial park in Yichang, Hubei Provice, China on 28 August (Photo: Reuters/Zhang Guorong)

In March 2023, Iran announced the discovery of a large lithium deposit, posing a challenge to Australia’s dominance in supplying China with lithium. China’s demand for lithium, driven by its electric vehicle industry, is expected to increase, creating potential opportunities for Indonesia as well. However, trade cooperation between Australia and Indonesia may be complicated by domestic politics and conflicting economic and environmental objectives. Additionally, Indonesia’s downstreaming policy, aimed at increasing domestic value added, has both positive and negative effects on the nickel industry. The withdrawal of Indonesian supply could potentially increase global prices.

Iran’s Lithium Discovery Challenges Australia’s Dominance in Chinese Market

In March 2023, the Iranian government announced the discovery of a massive lithium deposit estimated at 8.5 million tons. This significant find could potentially challenge Australia’s position as the world’s largest exporter of lithium, which China heavily relies on as its biggest consumer of the mineral. Currently, Australia exports over 90 percent of its lithium to China, fulfilling 85 percent of the country’s lithium needs. However, with Iran emerging as a new potential supplier, China’s lithium demand could be met from a different source.

Implications for Australia and Indonesia’s EV Battery Cooperation

The surge in demand for lithium, driven by the global shift towards electric vehicles (EVs), has raised concerns for countries like Indonesia, which aspires to play a key role in the EV industry. Indonesia has been actively pursuing the development of an EV program and aims to be one of the world’s top global EV battery producers by 2040. However, the country lacks sufficient lithium reserves, making collaboration with a lithium-rich country like Australia essential. Discussions about joining forces in EV battery production have taken place, but concrete developments are yet to be seen.

Challenges and Domestic Politics in Trade Cooperation

While the discovery of lithium reserves in Iran opens the possibility of reducing Australia’s reliance on China and expediting cooperation with Indonesia, domestic politics and conflicting economic and environmental objectives could complicate trade partnerships. Indonesia’s aggressive implementation of industrial policy, such as downstreaming nickel to increase domestic value-added, has led to tensions between mining exploration and profitability for downstream users, including foreign investors. Additionally, Australia may be cautious about antagonizing the United States in its trade disputes with China. These factors pose challenges to achieving trade cooperation in the EV battery industry.

Source : Leveraging lithium and nickel stocks to boost the EV industry

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Fixing fragmentation in the settlement of international trade disputes



Fragmentation in global trade due to the lack of development in multilateral trade rules at the WTO has led to an increase in FTAs. The Appellate Body impasse has further exacerbated fragmentation, requiring a multilateral approach for reform.

Fragmentation in Global Trade

Fragmentation in global trade is not new. With the slow development of multilateral trade rules at the World Trade Organization (WTO), governments have turned to free trade agreements (FTAs). As of 2023, almost 600 bilateral and regional trade agreements have been notified to the WTO, leading to growing fragmentation in trade rules, business activities, and international relations. But until recently, trade dispute settlements have predominantly remained within the WTO.

Challenges with WTO Dispute Settlement

The demise of the Appellate Body increased fragmentation in both the interpretation and enforcement of trade law. A small number of WTO Members created the Multi-Party Interim Appeal Arbitration Arrangement (MPIA) as a temporary solution, but in its current form, it cannot properly address fragmentation. Since its creation in 2020, the MPIA has only attracted 26 parties, and its rulings have not been consistent with previous decisions made by the Appellate Body, rendering WTO case law increasingly fragmented.

The Path Forward for Global Trade

Maintaining the integrity and predictability of the global trading system while reducing fragmentation requires restoring the WTO’s authority. At the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in 2022, governments agreed to re-establish a functional dispute settlement system by 2024. Reaching a consensus will be difficult, and negotiations will take time. A critical mass-based, open plurilateral approach provides a viable alternative way to reform the appellate mechanism, as WTO Members are committed to reforming the dispute settlement system.

Source : Fixing fragmentation in the settlement of international trade disputes

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WTO ministerial trading in low expectations and high stakes



The WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference is set to focus on e-commerce transparency, investment facilitation, and admitting new members. However, progress may be hindered by disputes, especially regarding fisheries subsidies.

The World Trade Organisation’s 13th Ministerial Conference

The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) 13th Ministerial Conference is set to take place in Abu Dhabi on 26–29 February, with expectations of deals on electronic commerce transparency, investment facilitation for development, and the admission of Timor Leste and the Comoros as WTO members. Despite these positive developments, the expectations are relatively modest compared to promises made at the 12th Ministerial Conference, which included addressing fisheries subsidies and restoring a fully functioning dispute settlement mechanism by 2024.

Challenges in Dispute Settlement and Agricultural Trade Reform

However, challenges remain, especially in the deadlock of dispute settlement since December 2019 due to a US veto on the appointment of Appellate Body judges. Progress in restoring the dispute settlement mechanism has stalled, and discord continues regarding India’s grain stockholding policy as a potential illegal subsidy. Restoring a fully functioning dispute settlement mechanism hinges on addressing US concerns about perceived bias against trade remedies in relation to China’s state subsidies.

Geopolitical Tensions and the Future of Trade Relations

The likelihood of reaching agreements amid geopolitical tensions between Western democracies and China appears slim, with issues surrounding subsidies and global supply chains causing rifts in trade relations. As nations focus on self-reliance within the global value chain, opportunities for trading face obstacles. Advocacy for open markets and addressing protectionist sentiments remains crucial for fostering resilience to external shocks and promoting economic growth.

Source : WTO ministerial trading in low expectations and high stakes

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Getting Vietnam’s economic growth back on track



Vietnam’s economy grew 8% in 2022 but slowed in 2023 due to falling exports and delays in public investments. The economy’s future depends on structural reforms and reducing dependency on foreign investment.

Vietnam’s Economic Roller Coaster

After emerging from COVID-19 with an 8 per cent annual growth rate, Vietnam’s economy took a downturn in the first half of 2023. The drop was attributed to falling exports due to monetary tightening in developed countries and a slow post-pandemic recovery in China.

Trade Performance and Monetary Policy

Exports were down 12 per cent on-year, with the industrial production index showing negative growth early in 2023 but ended with an increase of approximately 1 per cent for the year. Monetary policy was loosened throughout the year, with bank credit growing by 13.5 per cent overall and 1.7 per cent in the last 20 days of 2023.

Challenges and Prospects

Vietnam’s economy suffered from delayed public investments, electricity shortages, and a declining domestic private sector in the last two years. Looking ahead to 2024, economic growth is expected to be in the range of 5.5–6 per cent, but the country faces uncertainties due to geopolitical tensions and global economic conditions.

Source : Getting Vietnam’s economic growth back on track

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