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close this bookMining in Africa Today - Strategies and Prospects (UNU, 1987, 91 pages)
close this folder4. Control of the world mineral industry
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe aluminium oligopoly
View the documentThe copper oligopoly
View the documentConcentration in the iron and uranium sectors

Concentration in the iron and uranium sectors

The world iron and steel industry showed a similar evolution in terms of concentration of capital and production. There is actually a strong oligopoly in each advanced capitalist country but there is not an international steel oligopoly as there is for aluminium and copper. The internationalization of capital is not very highly developed in the steel industry, as production capacities in every advanced economy are under the control of national capitalists, and foreign investments in Third World countries are not so important. The internationalization process here is based on the progressive specialization of the national steel industries in the framework of an increasing international division of labour. Yet the steel industry, which has been limited for a long time to Western Europe and North America, developed on a large scale in the other Western countries, in Japan, in the socialist economies and even in the Third World, in the so-called semi-industrial countries as well as in some OPEC economies. This dual movement of relocation and specialization of the steel industry has put an end to the big Western steel enterprises' monopoly on the international market for iron ore, which they owed to their ownership of mines exclusively supplying their own home-based plants. As new outlets appeared, new operators became interested in acquiring or developing iron ore fields, UK and US mining companies or Japanese steel makers. The nationalization of foreign mining assets in some producing Third World countries, especially in South America, and the development of government investment led to the setting up of sometimes very powerful state firms, such as the Brazilian Companhia do Vale Rio Doce (CVRD).

For iron ore too, a producers' association has been established, but the fact that Brazil, which is by far the biggest exporter, did not join it, together with the conservative stand of Australia, excluded from the start any possibility of collective action on the international market.

The picture is quite different on the world market for uranium. Here, there is no oligopoly in the classical sense, as from the beginning, uranium prospecting and production activities attracted a wide range of economic and political operators: private oil, mining or industrial enterprises, but also government agencies or administrations from the advanced countries. Nevertheless, there is a more or less secret international cartel for uranium, in which the main producing Western firms participate. The concentration of capital is relatively very important in ore processing and in the production of nuclear fuelled electricity.

The biggest producer of enriched uranium in the world is a US government agency, the Energy Research and Development Authority. The other producers are multinational state agencies of Western Europe, and the USSR and South Africa.

Likewise, the production of nuclear fuelled electricity, that is, the design and construction of nuclear power stations, is monopolized by a small group of operators. A few private industrial firms in the USA (Westinghouse, Combustion Engineering, Babcock Wilcox, General Electric), West Germany (Siemens, Telefunken, Brown Boveri) and Sweden (ASFA-Atom) share the international market with the state agencies of France, Britain and Canada. But the two US firms, General Electric and Westinghouse, hold a dominant position, either directly or through their European licensees. The technical process developed in Canada is, however, seriously competing with those of the US, and the policies of nuclear development in such countries as India, Pakistan, Argentina or South Korea have been greatly helped by Canadian assistance.

With the exception of Namibia, the extraction of uranium ore in Africa is, at least in part, under the formal control of the local state. But as we shall see, government participation in the capital of mining enterprises does not mean that the state exerts real economic power and because the uranium processing technologies are very sophisticated and highly monopolized, the position on the international uranium market held by the firms and governments of the consuming countries is very strong.