BRUSSELS — The European Union has included natural rubber on its list of "critical" raw materials for a second time, a move welcomed by the European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers' Association (ETRMA).
The Brussels-based trade group hailed the decision, saying it supported industry efforts to diversify the supply of the "incredibly important" raw material for the European tire and rubber industry.
This is the second time natural rubber — the only biotic material to be included — is listed by the EU as a critical raw material. The material was first added to the list in 2017 for a three-year period.
"The recognition of natural rubber as a critical raw material for the second time is of great importance for our industry," said Fazilet Cinaralp, secretary-general of ETRMA.
The priority status, she said, confirms the European Commission's support to industry efforts to diversify supply through sourcing beyond traditional producing countries and by increasing the scalability alternative NR sources.
According to ETRMA, the tire industry absorbs about 76% of all the natural rubber produced globally. The study shows that the EU sources NR primarily from Indonesia (31% of imports), Thailand (18%) and Malaysia (16%).
In its foresight report, part of the communication on critical raw materials, the EU pointed out that the region "neither produces nor processes natural rubber."
The EU is, therefore, entirely dependent on imports, mainly from Southeast Asia, ETRMA said.
In addition, the biotic nature and unique characteristics of NR mean that it is difficult to substitute through alternative sources or secondary raw materials, it noted.
Under the framework of the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials in 2008, the ETRMA has committed to diversifying NR supply by reducing dependency on Southeast Asia and by growing research into alternative sources.
Today, more than 20% of natural rubber used in the EU is sourced from Africa, the trade group said, and industry is researching how NR sourcing from dandelion and guayule can be scaled to supply both tire and non-tire rubber industries.
"But, despite this progress, the sustainable sourcing of natural rubber remains a challenge," the association concluded.