19 December 2014

This research paper sets out recommendations for enhanced dialogue and intensified international cooperation that could significantly improve the functioning of global mineral markets.


Felix Preston

Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Research Director, Energy, Environment and Resources

Siân Bradley

Research Associate, Energy, Environment and Resources

Jaakko Kooroshy

Former Chatham House Expert


The purpose of this research paper is to identify and analyse the key policy challenges associated with anti-competitive practices in international metals and minerals markets.


Enhanced dialogue and intensified international cooperation in four areas could significantly improve the functioning of global mineral markets:

  1. Deal with the last remnants of producer-country cartels 
    Consumer countries should make a publicly visible case that in an age of interdependence and global supply chains, any remaining forms of producer-country cartels are an anachronism. Given limited means to coerce governments to stop supporting the last remaining mineral cartels in potash, a ‘naming and shaming’ approach in key forums such as the Group of Twenty (G20) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is likely to be most effective. Such action could be initiated by the three largest potash importers China, India and Brazil, and should seek support from others such as the EU and Japan.
  2. Prevent damaging export restrictions through win-win arrangements
    WTO litigation against export restrictions is unlikely to be a silver bullet and in the short term cooperative policy dialogues, such as those pursued by the OECD, offer the best prospects for concrete results. Such dialogues should also be initiated by major emerging economies and could focus on providing incentives such as investment packages or technology-sharing to entice producer countries to abstain from imposing restrictions. Consumers should continue to push for more specific and stricter WTO rules on export restrictions. Japan, the EU and the US should seek to include similar measures in regional trade negotiations.
  3. Strengthen cooperation among regulators on clandestine private cartels and other anti-competitive practices 
    Concerted action will be required by governments to tackle anti-competitive practices such as clandestine cartels, price-fixing and territorial agreements. Key regulators, such as those in the EU and China, should expand collection and sharing of data and best practice on anti-trust enforcement in minerals markets. In key cases they could also coordinate prosecution. Sustained investment in institutional capacity is required in many emerging economies; this should be supported through bilateral cooperation and via regional forums. Governments should also resuscitate the stalled negotiations on the WTO’s role in competition policy.
  4. Enhance governance for transnational market platforms and pricing mechanisms
    The responsibility to regulate key nodes in global minerals markets will remain in the hands of national bodies, but coordination is vital given interconnected global markets. International organizations and regulators should strengthen structural cooperation and exchange in the area of physical markets and with greater involvement of emerging economies. An informal high-level forum on regulating physical markets could reinvigorate debate, foster new perspectives and stimulate new partnerships. Governments in key consumer countries should also give their national regulators a clear mandate in minerals markets.