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Australia to Implement Reforms to Support Critical Minerals Partnership With U.S.

Earlier last month, Australia’s Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan touted the recently-formalized critical minerals partnership with the United States to counter China’s stranglehold on mineral resource supply in an op-ed for The Australian.

In it, he stressed the importance of “developing mature and diverse supply chains of minerals critical to modern life”:

“It took about 1500 years from the end of the Roman Empire to the re-emergence of Rio Tinto as a modern mining company that helped fuel the industrial revolution. The resources industry remains critical to technological progress. The industrial revolution would not have been possible without copper, nickel and bauxite. Modern-day activists might like to campaign against mining, often using phones to communicate their propaganda, while not even realising without mining there would be no Whats­App or wind turbines.” 

To encourage these diverse supply chains of critical minerals and to support the partnership, Australia is looking to  implement several sweeping reforms.  According to the office of Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan, the country is launching the “Critical Minerals Facilitation Office” under the auspices of the Department of Industry aimed at providing assistance to miners as they look to secure investment, financing and market access for critical mineral projects.  The office is set to open on January 1, 2020 with the main focal point being on rare earth projects.

The Australian government is further looking to commit $4.5 million for critical minerals research conducted by Australian scientific agencies.

Projects which “boost the country’s ability to extract and process critical minerals” will be eligible for financial support through Export Finance Australia (EFA). Rule changes to allow projects to access both EFA funding and low-interest loans through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) are also underway.

On the U.S. side, the White House earlier this summer issued Presidential Determinations which elevated five rare earth technologies to “critical to national defense” and “deserving of official Department of Defense support” status, paving the way for government investments into rare earth manufacturing technologies.

Two years after President Trump signed the “Presidential Executive Order on a Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals”  policy forms to revamp the mine permitting and regulatory process are still facing an uphill battle, but there appears to be a growing realization across party lines that a “holistic approach” to critical mineral resource policy was warranted and that “when it comes to critical minerals extracting, processing, recycling… now is our call to action.”

Hopefully, the critical mineral partnership agreements forged with allied nations like Australia and Canada will serve as external catalysts to keep the momentum for mineral resource reform going and build on it in 2020.