The last few months have seen a flurry of lithium ore discoveries across Zimbabwe and this has also brought sharp focus on the export of raw unbeneficiated ores for further processing and manufacturing of the increasingly important batteries in different jurisdictions. In the context of Zimbabwe, whilst the focus of the SI 5 of 2023 has been on the export of lithium ores the country has been prejudiced of vital inflows from a global billion dollar industries. This has therefore formed the basis of the stated Statutory Instrument, in the hope that the industry responsible for beneficiation and manufacture of end products from the countries mineral resource base will benefit the source of the mineral wealth. Notwithstanding the global aims of the qualified ban unbeneficiateed lithium ore, the export of same is still permissible subject to obtaining a permit from the relevant Minister. The following write up will lay out the criteria set out for obtaining the permit for export of unbeneficiated.

In terms section 3(1) of the base Mineral Export Control Order 2023, the export of unbeneficated base mineral ores from Zimbabwe to another country is prohibited except with the written permit of the Minister. The powers vested in the Minister are qualified in terms of section 3(1) (a-b) under which any applicant is obligated to produce compelling reasons to show that the ores proposed to be exported are incapable of being beneficiated to any extent within Zimbabwe. Furthermore the Mineral export Control Order 2023 permits that the relevant Minister may permit the export of a determined quantity, for the purposes of assaying of said base mineral ores. The quantity to be exported for the purposes of assaying shall be proportional to the necessary processes and testing to be done outside of Zimbabwe. It is therefore apparent that in terms SI 5 of 2023, the Minister is vested with discretionary powers to permit the export of unbeneficiated base minerals, e.g. lithium ores. However it is pertinent to note that the scope of such discretionary powers is limited in circumstances where the base mineral has no scope to be beneficiated within Zimbabwe and where the base mineral is required to be assayed outside the jurisdiction for the purposes of determine the mineral content and quality of said base mineral. In respect of lithium ore which falls within the scope of SI 5 of 2023, there may be a lacuna in the sense that there no local processing and manufacturing plants that utilize /beneficiate lithium ores such that is could be arguable that the export of same may be permissible in term of Section 3(1) (a). Whilst the Mineral Export Control Order 2023 sets up a high bar for the authorized export of lithium ore, this author opines that further regulations within the relevant line Ministry may need to detail the appropriate supporting documentation required for obtaining the said license such that it would dovetail with the global aims of SI 5 of 2023. This would also assist in setting up a supporting framework for the use of the Ministers discretion in the grant of the written permission for export of unbeneficiated base mineral which now include lithium ore.

Despite the media furore regarding the apparent ban on lithium ore exports, the said ban is qualified to the extent that there are permissible exports that can be done with the written approval of the relevant Minister. Whilst the grant of such approval is an exercise of discretion the scope of applying such discretion is limited to base minerals with no prospects of beneficiation within Zimbabwe and where an applicant desires to assay base mineral outside Zimbabwe to test the mineral quality and content.

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