In a bid to reduce Germany's reliance on critical minerals from Russia and China, Chancellor Olaf Scholtz conveyed to visiting Prime Minister of Mongolia Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene that Germany aims to buy raw materials from Mongolia, inlcuding copper and rare earths.
In response, Oyun-Erdene offered Scholtz to engage in the critical minerals sector beyond mining, including processing and value-added product development.
Germany has been working to strengthen ties in the mining sector with Mongolia for over a decade, with Chancellor Angela Merkel visiting twice in the 2010s. A German Mongolian Institute for Resources and Technology was founded in 2013, and it has since been training highly qualified graduates with European accreditation.
Germany heavily relies on imported raw materials, especially metals vital for its sizable automobile sector. This dependency is set to grow as automakers like Audi and Volkswagen shift to electric vehicles powered by lithium batteries.
Mongolia holds the potential to meet Germany's diverse raw material demands. The historical connections between Mongolians and East Germany during the Soviet era make Germans a vital European partner in Mongolia's view.
However, there are challenges to expanding meaningful Mongolian-German cooperation, particularly regarding Germany's need in critical minerals.
Mining and processing rare earth materials pose severe environmental and radioactive risks, potentially facing opposition from herders and rural communities, on whom elected officials depend.
Furthermore, rare earth manufacturing is far more complex than copper and other precious metal production, owing to the fact that individual rare earth elements, which are mined in groups, must be separated from one another.
It is also expensive and time-consuming to conduct lab studies to determine the most efficient and cost-effective way of recovering rare earths from ore.
The largest issue for Mongolia is how to deliver critical minerals and rare earth metals to Germany. Mongolia is landlocked between Russia and China and the distance from Germany is more than 6,000 kilometers.
Amar Adiya is editor-in-chief of Mongolia Weekly.