American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • A New Critical Minerals World Order? — A Look at the Post-Cold War Realignment in the Wake of Covid, War in Ukraine and Geopolitical and Economic Tension

    This week, world leaders are gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. They are facing, as the New York Times’s Roger Cohen (NYT) titled his reporting on the meeting, a “New World Order.”  

    Leaders must “pivot to the new reality provoked by the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the growth of extreme inequalities and aggressive Russian and Chinese autocracies,” writes the NYT.

    In the critical mineral realm, these recent events have served as a catalyst for the new “Great Game,” which the geopolitics of mineral resource supply had triggered and which had gained momentum with the adoption of the Paris agreement in 2015 which in turn had committed countries to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to renewables.

    Over the course of the last few months, awareness of the importance of securing critical mineral supply chains and decoupling form adversaries, i.e. China, continued to grow against the backdrop of an increasingly volatile geopolitical landscape and mounting environmental pressures.  While, as the New York Times suggests, “the shape of an alternative international system is unclear,” we are seeing first steps towards a realignment as nations around the world rethink and reorganize their critical mineral supply chains.  

    ARPN has discussed several developments involving the United States and key allies like Canada and Australia, but Asian nations, too, are taking steps to diversify their supply chains away from China, particularly in the rare earths (REE) space.

    In spite of having signed a deal with Vietnam on rare earth development after having experienced the ramifications of an over-reliance on Chinese minerals first hand with the 2010 rare earths standoff between China and Japan, Japan’s domestic rare earth production has remained limited to date, with more than two thirds of the country’s rare earth supplies coming from China.  With demand surging in the context of growing EV markets, Japan is looking to “curb excessive dependence on specific countries, carry forward next-generation semiconductor development and manufacturing bases, secure stable supply for critical goods including rare earth, and promote capital reinforcement of private enterprises with critical goods and technologies,” according to a government strategy paper cited by Qu4tro Strategies this month.

    To do so, Tokyo inked a critical mineral agreement with Australia in October of 2022 and Japan’s Organization for Metals and Energy Security (Jogmec) is working with private companies to take control of its holding in a joint venture to develop dysprosium-terbium heavy rare earths in Namibia.  Jogmec is also an investor in Australia-based Lynas Rare Earths’s latest push to increase its meaning capacity in Western Australia.

    Vietnam, not traditionally known as a global mining powerhouse, is looking to become a key player in the global REE supply chain.  While, as Qu4tro Strategies outlines, North Korea is believed to be home to the world’s largest rare earth deposits, Vietnam’s large REE reserves are more viable as an alternative to Chinese REEs, as North Korea’s political situation and economic sanctions prevent the country from becoming a link in the global supply chain.

    While exploration in Vietnam has so far been unable to tap into the country’s considerable mineral potential, that may be changing. As a fast-growing economy, Vietnam is attracting companies trying to find new regional bases as U.S.-Chinese trade tensions rise, and post-Covid supply chains remain strained.

    In recent months, several countries have entered into partnership agreements with bot the Vietnamese Government and private companies to establish “an integrated supply chain for rare earths and other critical minerals.”

    Qu4tro Strategies cites the December signing of an agreement between Vietnam and South Korea to jointly explore and develop core minerals including rare earths in Vietnam, as well as a partnership between Australia Strategic Minerals (ASM) and Vietnam Rare Earths for “long-term supply of rare earths to provide feedstock for ASM’s Korean Metals Plant.” 

    Trade between Canada and Vietnam is reported to increase under the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, and the Canadian province of Saskatchewan is actively exploring the “potential for the countries to collaborate on green energy, including sustainable mining and rare earth elements.”

    The Middle East, traditionally known as a leader in the fossil fuel realm, could also emerge as a critical mineral player in a newly realigned world, particularly as nations like Saudi Arabia incentivize investment towards creating integrated value chains, with the country currently processing 145 exploration license applications sent in by foreign companies, according to a new report issued by the Future Minerals Forum in Collaboration with the Payne Institute for Public Policy Colorado School of Mines.

    Meanwhile, Africa’s resource richness is well known. As the Future Minerals Forum’s report outlines, trade tensions with China as well as Russia’s ongoing war have triggered many Western countries to turn to Africa for investment opportunities in critical mineral supply during 2022.

    Discussions between Minerals Security Partnership countries (see our post here) have begun involving African regions as targets for potential partnerships, and five countries — the DRC, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Zambia – have initiated conversations on development opportunities to “diversify and bolster critical mineral supply chains while lowering trade reliance with China and Russia” during the UN General Assembly conference in September 2022.  Deals made at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which included a commitment of over $150 million dollars into Zambia’s mining sector to develop copper and Cobalt, are a case in point.

    However, as the authors of the Future Minerals Forum’s report point out, of Africa, “the scale and pace of investment inflows will largely hinge on the restructuring of domestic governance and policy changes.”

    As leaders continue to deliberate on the new realities of the post-Cold War world order in Davos this week, we will continue our focus on the realignment underway in the minerals sector and will zero in on the West in our second post this week.

  • New Year, New Congress, New Impetus for Critical Mineral Policy Reform?

    Two weeks into the new year, it appears that 2023 will continue the fast-paced tempo we got used to in 2022 when it comes to developments on the critical minerals front.

    With Congressional leadership elections – finally – behind us, policy makers in Washington are gearing up to delve into the issues, and, if the newly announced House Committee assignments are any indication, critical mineral resource and supply chain security will rate high on the priority list.

    Looking at the overall trend lines in the critical minerals space, earlier this month we outlined the themes we see emerging for this year, as follows:

    • A focus on the Super Criticals (see our Year in Review post for more info);
    • the growing importance of geopolitics, with China taking center stage and alliances and partnerships continuing to be forged to reduce reliance on Beijing;
    • the acceleration of the green energy transition which will require vast amounts of critical minerals;
    • …as well as industry’s efforts to sustainably green our future by harnessing the materials science revolution.

    It appears the urgency to act is not lost on policy makers, and earlier this week, Rep. Peter Stauber (R-Minnesota) the incoming chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, offered an early glimpse into plans to overhaul the permitting process for energy projects with the new House majority.

    Rep. Stauber has introduced the Permitting for Mining Needs Act,” a bill that seeks to spur domestic critical mineral production to meet national defense, technology and clean energy needs.

    Incoming House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-Arkansas) has vowed to make permitting reform a priority in the 118th Congress, stressing in an interview earlier this week that “[t]he country’s got to come to grips with where we want to go with this electric economy”  and if we do, being “totally dependent on China and other countries like that to supply the materials we need” is not the answer, but rather striving to “produce these elements and minerals on our own.”  

    Prioritizing the decoupling from Beijing is also the emerging theme from a vote to establish a Select U.S. House Committee on China, which will consist of nine Republicans and seven Democrats, and will be headed up by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisconsin), who has framed U.S.-Chinese competition as a 21st Century Cold War and wrote in an op-ed for Fox News that the “first step is to restore our supply chains and end critical economic dependencies on China,” which he noted produced approximately 90% of the world’s rare earth metals, alloys, and permanent magnets in 2019.

    Of course, if recent years on Capitol Hill serve as a guide, we can’t expect a high level of bipartisanship of the 118th Congress overall, but the critical minerals space may continue to be a rare exception.

    As a new piece for National Law Review outlines, “there is growing consensus that the U.S. must avoid trading dependencies on foreign sources of fossil fuels, for one, on Chinese critical minerals,” and while reform efforts may face an uphill battle with fundamental disagreements persisting over constraints on environmental reviews and timelines, “[p]ermitting reform will continue to be an issue receiving bipartisan attention,” though “[f]undamental disagreements among Democrats persist on how to put new constraints on environmental reviews and timelines.”

    An area “ripe for bipartisanship” according to National Law Review could be “[t]echnologies to trap carbon emissions from power plants and suck carbon directly out of the atmosphere,” with some lawmakers “convinced there will be an appetite to boost carbon removal startups in the next few years.”

    Meanwhile, external pressures continue to grow, with geopolitical tensions rising and the green energy transition accelerating.

    Here’s hoping Santa put some sneakers under the tree this Christmas, because if this week’s policy announcements in Washington, D.C. are any indication, this first month of 2023, we’ve hit the ground running.

  • Winning the “Energy Battle of the Twenty-First Century” Will Take More Than “Myopic” Policy Approach

    Earlier this week, the Biden Administration unveiled a road map for reducing the transportation sector’s carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050. Two weeks into the new year, the green energy transition continues to gain steam.  However, as Morgan D. Bazilian of the Colorado School of Mines and Gregory Brew from the Jackson School of Global Affairs at Yale [...]
  • “A” for Antimony — Defense Logistics Agency Zeroes in on Material Critical to U.S. National Security

    It may not make headlines as much as some of its U.S. Government Critical Minerals List peers, especially the battery criticals lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel and manganese, and as such you may not have heard much about it — but antimony has entered the spotlight and has garnered the attention of Pentagon planners. After receiving [...]
  • 2022 – ARPN’s YEAR IN REVIEW

      2022 surely was as fast-paced a year as they come. Didn’t we just throw overboard our New Year’s Resolutions?  We blinked, and it’s time for another review of what has happened in the past twelve months. So with no further ado, here is ARPN’s annual attempt to take stock of what has happened on the [...]
  • Canada Releases Critical Minerals Strategy Embedded in Geopolitical “Friend-Shoring” Context

    As geopolitical and economic stakes mount, the urgency to build out secure critical mineral supply chains is increasingly resonating with policymakers around the world.  Acknowledging that “[c]ritical minerals are not just the building blocks of clean technology like solar panels and electric vehicle batteries – they are a key ingredient for creating middle class jobs and growing [...]
  • Policy Makers Step Up Efforts to Secure Domestic Critical Mineral Supply Chains — U.S. Senators Introduce the “Critical Mineral Independence Act of 2022”

    As geopolitical tensions continue to mount, and China tightens its reins on its critical mineral supply chains, U.S. policy makers are stepping up their efforts to secure domestic supply chains. The latest case in point: Sen. Dan Sullivan’s (R-Alaska) and Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) just-introduced “Critical Mineral Independence Act of 2022,” legislation aimed at reducing the United States’ over-reliance on [...]
  • On National Miners Day, A Look at The Mining Industry’s Contributions to Sustainably Greening our Future

    “December 6 is National Miners Day… a fitting time to reflect on how much miners provide to allow for our modern way of life. (…)”   You might not recognize how mining plays a role in your daily life. Most people do not see the raw materials produced by mining, from metals and minerals to coal [...]
  • China Tightens Reins On Its Critical Mineral Supply Chains

    As geopolitical tensions continue to mount and supply chain challenges loom large across many sectors, Beijing is tightening reins on its critical mineral supply chains. According to news reports, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced plans to increase its supervision of China’s lithium battery supply chain, which, according to the ministry, is “severely unbalanced.” [...]
  • As Stakes Mount, U.S. Senators Lament Agencies’ Failure to Meet Timelines for Permitting Report Required by Federal Law

    While there has been a flurry of activity at the federal level to strengthen U.S. critical mineral supply chains against the backdrop of mounting global and domestic pressures, some of the early proponents of mineral resource policy reform on Capitol Hill are questioning the Biden Administration’s commitment to improving the federal mine permitting process “to help [...]