Nutrien - until now the biggest importer of phosphate rock from Western Sahara - has ended its trade. But what about the stock-exchange registered Sinofert Holdings in which they are the second biggest owner?
Above: The bulk vessel Kiran Adriatic is set to arrive China on 22 February 2019. It is the third vessel to arrive China with phosphate rock during the last months. The picture was taken at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, on 16 January 2019, when the ship was heading towards El Aaiún to load the controversial cargo. Click here to download the photo in high resolution.
[UPDATE, 27.09.2019. Kiran Adriatic never went to China. Instead, the vessel ended up in New Zealand, where it discharged its cargo in Napier, Timaru, Otago, Tauranga, from 7 to 26 March 2019]
From what Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) understands, the Chinese stock-exchange registered company Sinofert Holdings is now, for the first time, involved in the trade of phosphate rock from Western Sahara.
Sinofert is 22% owned by Nutrien Ltd, and 52,7 percent controlled by the Chinese government-owned Sinochem group.
WSRW on 19 January sent a letter to Sinofert and to its second biggest owner Nutrien, to enquire whether our information about Sinofert's participation in the controversial trade is correct. Neither Sinofert nor Nutrien responded to WSRW's request.
The probable imports to Sinofert Holdings - the first ever - took place on 28 November 2018, as the bulk vessel Trade Resource (IMO 9693410) arrived the port of Lianyungang, China. The vessel had picked up approximately 79000 tonnes of phosphate rock from occupied Western Sahara on 19 October 2018. Trade Resource is the third biggest vessel ever recorded to have transported phosphate rock from the territory since WSRW started daily monitoring of the traffic.
It does not happen often that new companies engage in such trade with conflict minerals from Western Sahara, a trade which is instrumental in paying for Morocco's costly occupation of the territory.
Since WSRW started its monitoring of the trade in 2011, thirteen enterprises have ended its purchases from Western Sahara, while only four new importers have emerged: Agrium from Canada (which merged into Nutrien, and ended its imports into North America on 31 Dec 2018), Paradip from India (part-owned by OCP, started imports in 2016 and still continues to do so), Coromandel (which has taken in one single shipment in January 2019) and now Sinofert Holdings.
From 2013 until end of 2018, Nutrien took in approximately 50% of all phosphate rock illegally mined in the territory. Obviously, the Moroccan government's state-owned phosphate firm OCP has been keen to replace the disappearing market.
Sinofert Holdings' largest owner, Sinochem, announced on its website on 31 October 2017 that OCP and Sinochem had entered into a 5 year (2017-2021) contract for supplies of phosphate rock, to be executed by Sinofert Holdings Ltd [or download] . The statement did not specify from which mine(s) the rock would be sourced.
From what WSRW has been able to gather, the cargo onboard the Trade Resources was purchased by Sinofert.
Two other recent shipments can possibly also be connected to Sinofert:
The export of phosphate rock from occupied Western Sahara has never been lower than in 2019. This is revealed in the new WSRW report P for Plunder, published today.
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