The Lobito corridor – a trade route linking the southern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and north-western Zambia to global markets through the port of Lobito in Angola – is garnering increasing attention. It’s seen not just as a pathway to export mining commodities, but also as an artery for future economic growth.
The regions in question within the DRC and Zambia are rich in copper, cobalt, and other essential minerals needed for the transition to green energy. Copper is key in capturing, storing, and transporting energy from renewable sources, while cobalt is utilised in lithium-ion batteries for electric cars.
Earlier this month, the EU and the US revealed a collaboration to support the development of the corridor. This includes initiating feasibility studies for a new rail line expansion between Zambia and Angola.
Last year, a consortium comprising Singapore-based commodity trader Trafigura, Portuguese construction firm Mota-Engil, and rail operator Vecturis secured a concession to operate, manage, and maintain the existing railway from Lobito to Luau in eastern Angola, near the DRC border. The railway spans nearly 1,300km across Angola and extends an additional 400km into the DRC, reaching Kolwezi, an important mining centre.
For the mining industry, the railway presents the quickest, most direct route to port from Kolwezi. Exports of copper, cobalt, and other raw materials from this area are surging and are projected to remain in high demand as the energy transition accelerates. Currently, these metals are shipped from the DRC eastward via Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, through Beira in Mozambique, or southward via Durban in South Africa – a journey spanning several weeks or longer. With growing export volumes, roads have become more congested and border delays have extended. This new export corridor, using the existing national rail infrastructure, takes trucks off the roads and offers notable cost and time savings for miners in the Copperbelt to reach international markets.
According to Trafigura CEO Jeremy Weir, the railway will not only establish a new route to market for commodities but also has the potential to stimulate the growth of sectors along the line, such as heavy industry, agriculture, and mining, thereby creating new opportunities.
A statement from the White House indicated that in addition to enhancing the corridor’s transport infrastructure, the US-EU partnership will explore cooperation in developing green power projects to increase power supply for neighbouring communities, support investment in critical minerals and clean energy supply chains, and expand agriculture value chains to improve local food production.