Announcement by Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić: “The story of Rio Tinto in Serbia is thus closed”
Darko Vojinovic / AP
After protests by environmentalists, the Serbian government has withdrawn the basis for lithium mining in western Serbia planned by the British-Australian company Rio Tinto.
Prime Minister Ana Brnabić's cabinet revoked the spatial plan for the Loznica region at its last meeting on Thursday.
"The story of Rio Tinto in Serbia is thus closed," said Brnabić.
The British-Australian group wanted to mine around 2.3 million tons of lithium carbonate in the western Serbian Jadar Valley from 2027.
Lithium is an important component of batteries such as those installed in electric cars.
The mining company has been pushing the project in Serbia for years and has concluded corresponding agreements with various governments in Belgrade.
The group said it was extremely concerned about the decision and would review the legal basis.
The company has already spent $450 million on feasibility studies and other research on the project.
The Government of Australia stated: "We highlight the major economic benefits of Rio Tinto's significant investment in Serbia."
Rio's shares fell as much as 3.8 percent on the Australian Stock Exchange, posting its sharpest one-day drop since Sept. 20, 2021.
The reversal of the current cabinet came after weeks of protests and road blockades by environmentalists who see the natural landscapes of the Jadar Valley threatened by mining.
However, environmentalists only spoke of a stage victory and suspected a tactical concession a few months before the presidential and parliamentary elections on April 3rd.
Scandal about Djokovic
There is also speculation as to whether the suffering of Serbian relations with Australia played a role in the dispute over Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic's participation in the Australian Open.
The world number one was forced to leave shortly before the start of the tournament because the Australian government canceled his visa.
Djokovic is revered in Serbia, and there was an outcry in the country after the expulsion.
Even Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić got involved.
Djokovic posted a photo of the environmental protests on Instagram with a supportive comment in December.
After the rejection of the project, the joke made the rounds on social media that Rio Tinto had now been expelled like Djokovic.
The Serbian government's decision could have serious consequences for the supply of the automotive industry.
The capacity has been estimated at 58,000 tons of lithium carbonate per year, enough for one million electric cars.
It would have been the largest production in Europe - and an important contribution to making the continent less dependent on lithium imports.
The raw material is already scarce and according to previous forecasts it would remain so for the next three years, experts explained.