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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Africa Taking Center Stage in China’s Quest for Resources

    It is “the single largest source of mineral commodities for the United States, particularly for resources like rare earth elements, germanium, and industrial diamonds,” according to the United States Geological Survey, which notes in its most recent Mineral Commodity Summaries report that “of the 47 mineral commodities that the United States is more than 50 percent reliant on foreign sources, 24 came in part from [this country].”

    It is the big elephant in the global resource policy room: China. And its footprint is growing – as we recently outlined, in the Arctic, and in Africa. A recent comprehensive Financial Times piece by David Pilling outlines Beijing’s growing multifaceted involvement on the African continent. As Pilling writes: 

    “In the past 15 years, […] the level of engagement by Chinese state-owned enterprises, political leaders, diplomats and entrepreneurs has put centuries of previous contact in the shade.”

    China’s engagement ranges from loans over investments for construction of roads, ports and railways to involvement in peacekeeping missions. According to Pilling, who cites think tank figures, China-Africa trade has risen from a mere $10 billion to 220 billion since 2000, while China’s foreign direct investment stocks went up from just 2 per cent of US levels to 55 per cent. Meanwhile, about one-sixth of all loans to Africa come from China.

    Most recently, and not surprisingly, Cobalt – a critical component of EV battery technology – has been in the crosshairs of Chinese companies, which have purchased multibillion-dollar stakes in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). At 3,400,000 metric tons, the DRC is home to the world’s largest Cobalt reserve and roughly 62 percent of global refined Cobalt is sourced here.

    What does this mean for the rest of the world – and for the U.S. in particular? Writes Pilling:

    “The China-Africa relationship — partly spontaneous and partly the fruit of an orchestrated push from Beijing — is shifting the commercial and geopolitical axis of an entire continent that many western governments had all but given up on. While Europeans and Americans view Africa as a troubling source of instability, migration and terrorism — and, of course, precious minerals — China sees opportunity. Africa has oil, copper, cobalt and iron ore. It has markets for Chinese manufacturers and construction companies. And, perhaps least understood, it is a promising vehicle for Chinese geopolitical influence.”

    The global resource wars are continuing to heat up, but the U.S., for too long hamstrung by outdated policies and regulatory red tape, has been slow to even get off the starting block. There are indications this is changing, as evidenced by a current U.S. Commerce Department investigation into whether aluminum and steel imports from China and elsewhere constitute a threat to national security, among other things.

    As China continues its global quest for resources, now would be a good time for policy makers and stakeholders formulate a comprehensive U.S. mineral resource strategy our country has been sorely lacking. 

     

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  • Happy Independence Day! We’re Free, Yet So Dependent

    stephanie-mccabe-24620Happy Birthday, America! Another trip around the sun, and we’re back on the eve of the 4th of July gearing up for parades, barbecues and fireworks in honor of the men and women who have fought, and continue to safeguard our freedom today.

    Last year, we used this opportunity to point out 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.  Of course, since we are who we are, ARPN looked at U.S. mineral resource policy as a case in point.  We feel our post is still very timely, and perhaps even more so today, as some of our mineral resource dependencies have deepened even further since last year.  Take a look:

    “As our friends at the National Mining Association have aptly pointed out in their latest email message to their supporters (subscription only),  ‘minerals make possible much of the technology that enables national defense’ and  ‘keep our nation and our troops safe and fuel innovations that improve veterans’ quality of life.’

    Recognizing the importance of critical metals and minerals, the United States began placing an emphasis on securing access to these materials in the 1950s.   However, a recent USGS analysis paints a troubling picture.  An analysis of data collected between 1954 and 2014 shows that our reliance on foreign non-fuel minerals has significantly increased over the examined 60-year time frame – both in terms of number and type, as well as percentage of import reliance. As we previously pointed out:

    ‘The data clearly shows that whereas the number of nonfuel mineral commodities for which the United States was greater than 50% net import-dependent was 28 in 1954, this number has 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 surged to 19 in 2014.’

    What’s more, there has been a drastic shift in provider countries:

    ‘Whereas in 1954 the U.S. sourced metals and minerals largely from our trading partners, our diversified supply sources today also include a number of countries that are ranked as ‘unfree’ and ‘less free’ on various indices, thus raising the specter of supply disruptions given the volatility of geopolitical realities.’

    ARPN followers know that much of our over-reliance on foreign minerals is largely self-inflicted.  Most recently, using the example of Copper, we’ve pointed this out as part of our ‘Through the Gateway’ informational campaign on Gateway Metals and their Co-Products, arguing that:

    ‘With our own reserves and at mining projects ready to come online, the U.S. would not only be able to become self-sufficient with regards to meeting Copper needs, but could even position itself to be a Copper net exporter.  A similar scenario is feasible for a number of other critical metals and minerals, where we could, at a minimum, significantly reduce foreign import dependencies by harnessing our domestic mineral potential.’

    James Madison, one of the Founding Fathers of the very nation the birthday of which we’re about to celebrate, once said:

    ‘I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.’

    USGS has alerted us to one of those gradual and silent encroachments.  They come in the form of decreased exploration spending and an increase in the time it takes for domestic mineral resource extraction projects to come online courtesy of a rigid and outdated permitting process.

    As indicated above, since last year, our mineral resource dependencies have deepened even further:  According to this year’s USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries, the number of metals and minerals for which the United States is 100% is now pegged at 20. Meanwhile, there are now a whopping 50 metals and minerals for which we are more than 50% import dependent – compared to 43 in 2015.

    For those 50, China, which is known to play politics with its resource supplies, is listed 28 times as a major import source — up from 21 times in the previous year.

    Our ongoing failure to devise policies aimed at better harnessing our domestic resource potential has deepened our mineral resource dependencies – with real risks and implications for U.S. national security, the resurgence of American manufacturing and our competitiveness in 21st Century high tech innovation.

    On a positive note, and in contrast to previous years, it appears that this year’s Mineral Commodity Summaries and the trends it shows have garnered more attention in both media and academia.   Perhaps more national exposure for these issues will help generate some much-needed momentum for the formulation of a comprehensive mineral strategy.  Hopefully, in the midst of our national birthday celebrations, our policy makers are taking note.

    Photo credit:
    Stephanie McCabe

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  • The Arctic – A Looming Battlefield for Resource Supremacy?

    While relations between Russia and the United States continue to make headlines on a daily basis, one particular aspect of this relationship – in spite of the fact that it may be one of the most contentious ones – has been largely flying under the radar. As Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin recently wrote: [...]
  • North Korean Brinkmanship Highlights Nexus Between Resource Policy and Geopolitics

    At ARPN, we have long highlighted the important but oft-overlooked nexus between resource policy and geopolitics.   The latest case in point is South Korea, which, as ARPN President Daniel McGroarty points out in his latest opinion piece for Fox News, is navigating murky waters “talking sunshine and Rare Earths as North Korean war clouds gather.” For decades, [...]
  • The U.S. Tomahawk Strike – Syria, Russia … and China?

    While the world media mulls the impact of the U.S. airstrike on Syria in the wake of the sarin gas attack and marvel at the accuracy of the Tomahawk cruise missile, friends of ARPN are reminded that the rare earths critical to the Tomahawk’s terminal guidance system are sourced from China. An interesting sidebar to [...]
  • China’s REE Stranglehold Comes Back Into Focus

    If the first few weeks with a new administration at the helm in Washington, DC are any indication, we will see more efforts to make sweeping changes in federal policy in the coming weeks.  One area where President Donald Trump promised changes on the campaign trail is trade – and specifically relations with China. In [...]
  • Graphite: At the Core of Your Pencil, 21st Century Technology, and Geopolitical Resource Warfare

    It may be its most well-known use, but Graphite today is at the core of more than just your pencil – it is at the core of 21st Century consumer technology.  Just ask Elon Musk. The Tesla Motors CEO and futurist recently insinuated that the label “Lithium-Ion battery” may actually be a misnomer for the batteries that power [...]
  • Through the Gateway: “Fairy Dust” Supply Woes Loom

    As we continue our look Through the Gateway, comes a stern reminder by way of Canada that the geopolitics of resource supply represents a complex issue warranting comprehensive policy approaches.   And it literally concerns a metal that touches us — more precisely, we touch it — every day, too many times to count. A decision to [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Germanium – Semiconductor of the Future?

    Our first Zinc co-product, Germanium, is a silvery metalloid.  According to USGS, “in nature, it never exists as the native metal in nature” and “is rarely found in commercial quantities in the few minerals in which it is an essential component.” That said, the “most commercially important germanium-bearing ore deposits are zinc or lead-zinc deposits formed at low temperature.” Discovered [...]
  • Through the Gateway: The Geopolitics of Co-Product Supply – a Look at Scandium

    Throughout ARPN’s work, we have consistently highlighted the geopolitical dimension of mineral resource policy.  Where we source (or fail to source) our metals and minerals is an often forgotten – or ignored – factor, with implications for our domestic manufacturers, and, at times, even for our national security. Case in point – and in keeping [...]

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