It’s that time of the year again – Independence Day is upon us. This year, things are different, though. If you’re like us, it kind of snuck up on you, and it took seeing the booths selling fireworks in the parking lots to realize it’s July already. After all, we just came off the longest month of March ever, right?
While parades and fireworks to honor the men and women who have fought for, and continue to safeguard our freedom today, have been canceled in many places, July 4th still provides us with an opportunity to pause and take stock of where we are as a nation — and this year, there is much to reflect on.
From a critical mineral resource perspective, we at ARPN have always used the occasion of Independence Day to remind ourselves that “while we cherish the freedom we are blessed with in so many ways, we must not become complacent, as there are areas where we’re increasingly becoming less independent” — with our reliance on foreign mineral resources being a case in point.
Today, this statement rings more true than ever, with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic having exposed the vast extent of our mineral resource supply chain vulnerabilities. As ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty argued in a piece for Real Clear Politics in March, “[t]he rapid spread of the coronavirus is doing more than claim an alarming number of human hosts — it is burning through decades of bureaucratic inertia and plain inattention as the American economic ecosystem has become dangerously dependent on China.”
As followers of ARPN know — and as our nation as a whole is increasingly realizing —the United States’ reliance on foreign non-fuel minerals has significantly increased over the course of the past 65 years, both in terms of number and type, as well as as a percentage of import reliance. Along with the rise in import dependency came a drastic shift in provider countries.
Whereas the number of non-fuel mineral commodities for which the United States was greater than 50% net import-dependent was 28 in 1954, this number increased to 47 in 2014. And while the U.S. was 100% net import reliant for 8 of the non-fuel commodities analyzed in 1954, this total import reliance increased to 11 non-fuel minerals in 1984, and currently stands at 17. In the latest USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries report, China continues to be the elephant in the data room, and is listed 25 times as one of the major import sources of metals and minerals for which our net import reliance is 50% or greater.
This spells trouble, and this realization is going mainstream, as indicated by this week’s Wall Street Journal discussion of a report by consulting firm Horizon Advocacy, which (looking specifically at rare earths) warns that “China’s rare earths positioning both implicates and threatens the entire global system,” and that “China will not rule out using rare earth exports as leverage (…).”
Thankfully, there are indications that policymakers on Capitol Hill, in Cabinet Departments and in the White House are taking the issue seriously, and, after years of inaction, a flurry of current policy initiatives aimed at alleviating our supply chain vulnerabilities points to the U.S. Government viewing strategic materials and critical minerals issues with a new seriousness.
Underscoring the urgency of the situation largely from a battery tech minerals perspective, Simon Moores, managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence and a member of the ARPN panel of experts, told the committee that “(…) the consequences of a long-term cutoff of some of the critical materials that we’ve discussed today would just be disastrous for the U.S. economy. (…) The threat of China…is becoming more and more evident every day even during this pandemic.”
How we proceed forward over the next few months of 2020 could become a watershed moment for United States. Will we continue to tinker around the edges of policy reform, or will we finally take significant steps towards U.S. mineral resource independence?
As Moores concluded in his Senate testimony with regards to securing critical mineral resource supply chains:
“It is not too late for the US but action is needed now.”