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As Allies Take Steps to Unleash Mineral Potential, U.S. Must Not Become Complacent – “Friend-Shoring” Piece of the Puzzle, not Panacea

As U.S. stakeholders grapple with the question of how to bolster U.S. supply chains for the battery criticals and other critical minerals amidst skyrocketing demand scenarios and growing geopolitical pressures, our allies are taking steps of their own to unleash their mineral potential.

Looking north, in order to “secure Canada’s place in important supply chains with other countries and [to] implement a just and sustainable Critical Minerals Strategy,” the Trudeau government 2022 budget blueprint released earlier this month proposes up to $3.8 billion over eight years beginning in the fiscal year 2022-23 in “significant investments, while working closely with affected Indigenous groups, to contribute to the development of a domestic zero-emissions vehicle chain.”  

Meanwhile, across the globe, the Australian Federal Government announced its 2022 Critical Minerals Strategy in March of this year, building on the first Critical Minerals Strategy initially published in 2019.  According to the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, the revised strategy “has a vision to put Australia at the centre of meeting the growing demand for critical minerals. It will underpin our prosperity and security by improving access to reliable, secure and resilient supplies of critical minerals.” By de-risking projects, creating an “enabling” environment and strengthening international partnerships, the Australian government aims to make Australia a “global critical minerals powerhouse by 2030, delivering stable supply, sovereign capability and regional jobs and growth to Australia.”

In keeping with the Biden-Administration’s emphasis on leveraging international partnerships with close allies, the United States has continued to work closely with Canada and Australia to strengthen and formalize mineral resource cooperation. Most recently, Australia’s Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo met in Washington, D.C. at the end of March for the inaugural Australia-US Strategic Commercial Dialogue (AUSSCD) to discuss the accelerating green energy transition and related mineral resource challenges.  The executive-level roundtable highlighted the importance of developing shared approaches to ESG and traceability standards and working with other like-minded partners to build resilient supply chains.

These developments are encouraging, but tempting as it may be – particularly in light of the pervasive nature of the “paradox of the green revolution”, as Reuters columnist Andy Home called the paradox that “public opinion is firmly in favour of decarbonisation but not the mines and smelters needed to get there” – we must not be complacent and rely too much on friend-shoring.

With the advent of political campaign season, the balancing act to reconcile green credentials with the acknowledged need for domestic resource development will not get any easier for the Biden Administration.  “Friend-shoring” is certainly an important pillar of the “all-of-the-above” concept, but, in light of mounting demand and ever higher stakes with Russia’s war on Ukraine and rising resource nationalism, it is insufficient to alleviate our overall problem.

Thankfully, as ARPN has consistently argued“[t]he good news is that courtesy of the materials science revolution, industry can harness new technologies to do expand our mining infrastructure responsibly and sustainably – (…) and as even Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm acknowledged [last] summer during a U.S. Senate hearing:  ‘This is the United States. We can mine in a responsible way. And many places are doing it. And there are some places where there are more challenges, but we can do this.’”