Serbia has revoked Australian mining giant Rio Tinto’s lithium exploration licences a week after tennis grand slam champion Novak Djokovic had his visa cancelled.
With the unvaccinated world No.1 missing from the Australian Open in Melbourne, Serbia has appeased environmental protesters who objected to the project.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said her government agreed with calls from green groups to stop the $2.4 billion Jadar lithium project which, if completed, would have made Rio a top 10 lithium producer – an essential component of solar and electric car batteries.
Relations between Serbia and Australia have turned sour after Novak Djokovic was deported before the Australian Open for not being vaccinated
‘All decisions and all licences have been annulled,’ Brnabic she said.
‘As far as project Jadar is concerned, this is an end.’
The decision was announced exactly a week after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke cancelled Djokovic’s visa, arguing he needed to exercise his ministerial powers on health grounds.
Earlier this week, Rio had pushed back the timeline for first production from Jadar by one year. to 2027, citing delays in key approvals.
Rio Tinto said it was ‘extremely concerned’ by Serbia’s decision and was reviewing the legal basis for it.
The Australian Securities Exchange-listed company committed to the project last year, as global miners expanded their operations mining the metals needed for the green energy transition, including lithium, which is used to make electric vehicle batteries.
The mine was slated to produce enough lithium to power 1million electric vehicles, along with boric acid, used in ceramics and batteries, and sodium sulphate, used in detergents.
At full capacity, the mine was expected to produce 58,000 tonnes of refined battery-grade lithium carbonate per year, making it Europe’s biggest lithium mine by output.
Brnabic accused Rio Tinto of providing insufficient information to communities about the project.
Rio responded by saying ‘it had always operated in compliance’ with Serbian laws.
Thousands of people blocked roads last year in protest against the government’s backing of the project, demanding Rio Tinto leave the country and forcing the local council to scrap a plan to allocate land for the facility.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said the government’s decision came after requests by various green groups
Serbians go to the polls in April while an Australian federal election is due by May.
Diplomatic relations have soured Belgrade and Canberra after Djokovic was deported, following a Federal Circuit Court challenge to his initial detention in Melbourne.
Djokovic himself spoke out in support of ‘clean air’ in a December Instagram story post captioning a picture of the protests, which was published by digital sports platform The Bridge.
Twitter users were quick to joke about Rio being deported from Serbia.
Serbia’s populist ruling coalition, led by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), had initially showed support for lithium and copper mining, a stance that made it come under fire, helping erode the comfortable majority the party enjoyed in a 2020 vote.
Sasa Djogovic of the Belgrade-based Institute for Market Research said the rulingparty ‘is losing popularity and because of that it is forced to fulfil the demands by activists.’
The SNS-led coalition is expected to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on April 3, although the date is yet to be officially confirmed by President Aleksandar Vucic.
The decision was announced exactly a week after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke cancelled Djokovic’s visa, arguing he needed to exercise his ministerial powers on health grounds
‘We are listening to our people and it is our job to protect their interests even when we think differently,’ Brnabic said on Thursday.
The Jadar project, one of Serbia’s biggest foreign investments, was part of government efforts to draw in investment and boost economic growth. But environmental groups in Serbia, which has been heavily scarred by industrial pollution, say the new mine will pollute land and water in area.
Earlier this month, Brnabic had said the project would be likely paused at least until after the elections.
‘A compromise will be probably reached after the elections, so that there could be a renegotiation of royalties or value-sharing,’ said a Rio Tinto shareholder, who declined to be named.
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk