Antimony price hike may lead to sustainable development
Global metal prices have risen by 150%, largely due to the closure of illegal antimony mines in China because of health and safety reasons, logistical problems and government intervention. While this may not be good news for traders, higher metal prices may incentivize China and other countries with rich reserves of antimony to mine the rare material in a more sustainable and safer manner.
China\'s production of antimony, a relatively rare metal, was hampered during the first months of 2008 as a result of dry rivers, leading to transportation problems. In addition, government interventions such as preparations for the Beijing Olympic Games and health and safety enforcement also led to the closure of some antimony mines.
The permanent closure of illegal mines has reduced China\'s antimony production by one third, equating to 27% of total world production in 2009. The health impact of antimony on workers and those living in the vicinity of mines is similar to that of arsenic, and working conditions in illegal mines are treacherous; therefore, the closure of these mines supports the argument that the Chinese government is enforcing a more sustainable supply chain.
Antimony is used as a fire retardant, and is also increasingly being used in microelectronics, which, coupled with the reductions in supply from China, has seen antimony prices rise to $11,000 per metric ton, an increase of 150% since 2009, and nearly 10-fold over the past decade.
Antimony prices now effectively internalize some of the health and environmental externalities caused by its mining, and its high price now provides an incentive for sustainable mining of the rare metal. Thailand, which has the second largest reserves after China, could especially benefit. Bolivia, Russia, South Africa and Tajikistan also have substantial reserves, and could follow China\'s drive for sustainable development and make antimony mining a sustainable livelihood for its communities.