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There’s such little awareness amongst German companies of the underground mining capabilities in Canada that one German company recently declared, “There’s no underground mining in Canada.”
It’s a misperception that needs to change in order for relationships to develop between Canadian and German companies in the mining supply and services sector, said Aarti Mona Soerensen, manager of the mining and mineral resources department at the Canadian German Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
Based in Toronto, the chamber is an official representative of German trade with more than 500 members. It focuses on establishing partnerships in the construction, food, medical technology and mining sectors. During a recent exploratory discussion with industry representatives in Sudbury, Soerensen said Canada has been underestimated as a partner for German companies, and she’s hoping to change that.
“The intent is to get into a discussion and hopefully, then, over the longer term, co-operation to work out partnership opportunities,” Soerensen said. “My idea is not to flood Sudbury with new companies and take over the market, because that’s not really what German companies do. We very much rely on collaboration with local companies.”
Currently, Germany imports three quarters of its metals and energy resources, and domestic production is insignificant, Soerensen said. But demand for imports of raw materials has increased in the last 20 years, and the country is seeking to obtain a secure source for those materials.
“We have the high import dependency, we have an increase in demand, caused by new technology developments, the volatile prices and the country concentration, which is really key,” she said. “If 90 per cent of the cobalt is sourced from the Congo and the situation gets difficult there, it can threaten the security of supply, so that’s where the strategy is going.”
But there are also opportunities in the supply and services sector. In all of Germany, 300 to 500 companies are working in the sector, whereas there are 320 member companies in the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Services Association (SAMSSA) alone, grossing $5 billion in sales annually.
While German companies have a strong presence in Eastern Europe and Russia, many haven’t yet made the jump to North America.
“We’re trying to raise awareness of Canada with on-the-ground relationships to show there’s potential there and it’s maybe less difficult than the Philippines or Indonesia to work with,” Soerensen said.
Dick DeStefano, executive director of SAMSSA, was surprised at how little information is known about underground mining amongst German companies, especially with 29 mines operating in northeastern Ontario alone.
But Russia is one market in which he sees some compatibility. Several SAMSSA members have indicated an interest in exporting to that region and going through Germany could be a way in, DeStefano said.
Soerensen acknowledged the concern Northern Ontario companies might have with relation to a foreign company coming in and taking their share of the market. But she assured SAMSSA members that the chamber is seeking a proactive approach to collaboration.
“You’ll always have competitors, and the question is what do you do about it?” she said. “Do you wait until you get eaten, or do you take a different approach? I think that’s an opportunity to see how we can create a better fit for this region.”
While in Sudbury, Soerensen visited the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI), the Greater Sudbury Development Corp., Ionic Engineering and Symboticware. Plans are in the works for her to return to Sudbury this summer to visit the city’s research institutes.