Wilfried Held: The background of the Fachvereinigung Edelmettale, the German Precious Metals Association
With the LBMA Precious Metals Conference taking place in Berlin this year, the Alchemist spoke with Wilfriend Held to get a closer look at the Fachvereinigung Edelmettale, the German Precious Metals Association to learn more about the background of the organisation.
Q: Can you discuss a bit of background on yourself and how you got into the precious metals industry?
A: I studied economics. Right from the beginning of my professional career, I have worked in federations. To begin with, I worked for three years at the German newspaper editors association and, then in 1984, I started to explore the world of the non-ferrous metals as advisor for economic policy in the German non-ferrous metals federation in Düsseldorf. At the time, the Managing Director of this association advised me: “If you really want to join the non-ferrous metals and precious metals industry, there will be two options: you will leave this industry within three days, or you will stay there for the rest of your life!” I have now worked in this industry for more than 25 years, and it’s still a fascinating job. In 1994, I became Managing Director of the German precious metals association (Fachvereinigung Edelmetalle) – a former member of the non- ferrous metals association (Wirtschaftsvereinigung Metalle).
Q: How, why, and when was Fachvereinigung Edelmetalle set up?
A: After World War II, Europe, and especially Germany, had to recover and to establish political and economical stability by introducing market economy principles. In a market economy, know-how and experience of the industry are indispensable. At that time, the different industry branches started to organise themselves. Most well-known associations were founded at this time – the second half of the 1940s. Fachvereinigung Edelmetalle was founded in 1948. Since then, this association has represented the interests of the producers and manufacturers of precious metals vis-à-vis the Federal Government, the Parliament, and national or international organisations. Its objectives are to study all problems faced by the industry, for example, in the fields of environmental, trade and raw materials policy.
Q: Can you explain the history of your members?
A: Fachvereinigung Edelmetalle is an organisation of great stability and reliability – characteristics that no federation can do without. Since its foundation 62 years ago, only five managing directors have run the office. The Fachvereinigung has 20 member companies employing 6,000 people. Members are the producers and manufacturers of precious metals. The centres of production are Hanau and Pforzheim, where precious metals have been produced for more than 150 years, with considerable economic importance. Precious metals are key products for modern life. No lap-top or mobile phone would function without the precious metals used in the components. All human efforts to protect our environment would fail without precious metals. Just think of auto-catalysts or of all the technical equipment helping to make our world cleaner. Precious metals even help to make the world more enjoyable: think of jewellery! And they make it healthier as well, if you think of the precious metals used to make dental alloys and some cancer treatments!
Q: Who is on your board?
A: The Chairman of the Fachvereinigung Edelmetalle is Dr. Roland Gerner, Managing Director of W. C. Heraeus GmbH, Hanau. The Vice-Chairman is Dr. Jörg Beuers, CEOof Allgemeine Gold- und Silberscheideanstalt AG, Pforzheim. The Treasurer, Ralf Drieselmann, is Senior Vice-President of Precious Metals Management, Umicore AG & Co. KG, Hanau. Three other gentlemen complete the Board: Dr. Philipp Reisert, Managing Director of C. Hafner GmbH & C. KG, Pforzheim; Marc Turpin, Managing Director of AMI Doduco GmbH, Pforzheim; Oliver Völlinger, Managing Director o Wieland Dental & Technik GmbH & Co. KG, Pforzheim.
Q: Can you tell me about the main roles of Fachvereinigung Edelmetalle, including: statistics, lobbying, and liaising with regulators?
A: Fachvereinigung Edelmetalle represents the economic interests of its member companies vis-à-vis the authorities and the public. Its expertise is highly appreciated by all stakeholders.
Since 2006, Fachvereinigung has been a member of the German Jewellery and Watches Association in Pforzheim and, therefore, represented by the German Industry Association BDI in Berlin. The European Union is still of growing importance regarding industry regulation and politics. The vast majority of all regulations affecting this industry originate in Brussels. Thus, Fachvereinigung is also a founding member of the European Precious Metals Federation (EPMF) in Brussels. This federation represents the industry vis-à-vis the European Commission and other international stakeholders. Germany is represented by two members of the EPMF Board: Ralf Drieselmann as Treasurer and myself as Vice- Chairman.
Q: Can you discuss your company’s views on REACH?
A: The industry’s view is that REACH might be a useful instrument to increase transparency and to further protect the environment and the consumer. The European precious metals industry is meeting all the REACH requirements with utmost care. We have built a Consortium with 48 members covering all precious metals.
This Consortium is well structured and does an excellent job to fulfil the REACH obligations. But everybody has to recognise that REACH means an additional burden for the industry: a high cost and a very heavy workload for the industry experts. These costs impact the industry’s global competitiveness, because they cannot be passed on in product prices. We agree with Business Europe, the Confederation of European Businesses, on the need to limit the burdens imposed by REACH:
-The financial burden should be reduced.-Companies are still left with legal uncertainties because of inconsistency or lack of co-ordination between different pieces of legislation.
-The number of environmental and technical regulations should be reduced to avoid the increasing over-regulation in Europe.
Q: How do environmental issues affect Fachvereinigung Edelmetalle?
A: When it comes to meeting all the environmental requirements, the costs involved are not the only aspect to consider. Environmental protection also creates a market for precious metals, as these are key products that will support all efforts to better protect our world against environmental damage. But of course, environmental policy should strongly be based on scientific knowledge. Actually, the precious metals industry is facing discussions to set a new Occupational Exposure Limit for chloroplatinates, which would be 400 times lower than the well-established limit applied today. This measure is based on a study that is ten years old and not valid to justify new measures. Another important topic in Europe is waste legislation, which will incur bureaucratic cost for the industry.
Q: With the LBMA conference coming to Berlin in September, what would you predict will be the big topics of discussion?
A: The high uncertainty about the future of the euro, caused through discussions about potential sovereign defaults and the related role of gold will certainly be one of the major topics. Another major item that presumably will be discussed is the continuously growing investor appetite for precious metals across the board, which competes with a recovering industrial demand. The question is whether the investment demand will be sustainable. Another topic might be REACH, which is of special interest to companies in Europe, but also worldwide. A discussion about how to secure access to precious metals in the framework of the EU Raw Materials Initiative and about the contribution of recycling would also be very interesting. The precious metals industry tries to meet all requirements in the field of sustainability. A presentation of sustainability initiatives and company reports would be welcomed as well.
Q: What, if any, do you think will be the future problems in the precious metals industry in Germany that your company will need to explore?
A: In principle, to keep the political and economical framework acceptable. Basic points are to avoid over-regulation and to limit the costs imposed on the industry. The precious metals industry puts key products on the market, which everybody needs, and this industry creates jobs for a lot of people. Jobs are the best way to solve all social problems in every country. So let’s see this industry as a real friend of society. Other topics will be to ensure that secondary raw materials will be recycled efficiently here in Europe, instead of being exported in growing quantities to countries with very low or no environmental protection. Environmental protection doesn’t stop at borders. So-called backyard recycling in Asian and African countries means high losses in precious metals as well as dramatic environmental and health impacts. Illegal shipments of secondary materials damage Europe’s ‘urban mines’.
A third point would be to keep markets open and to avoid growing protectionism, which can always be observed in difficult economic times. To complete the Doha Round: the further reduction of tariffs and dismantling of non-tariff obstacles must finally be achieved as soon as possible – after almost ten years of negotiations.
Q: What, if any, are the current challenges facing the industry, including strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
A: We are convinced that the usages of precious metals will keep increasing. More and more people in the world are asking to take part in economic social and technical welfare. Without precious metals, no progress will be realised. Precious metals will, in an increasing way, contribute to human dreams of a modern life offering technical innovation and a clean environment.
Finally, they make crucial contributions to solve our future energy and climate challenges. Examples are PMs containing fuel cells for zero emission transport, PM process catalysts for energy-efficient production of (petro)chemicals, smart PM control electronics for system optimisation, or PMs needed for certain photovoltaic or solar-thermal applications.