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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 a strong, globally competitive Canadian economy,”Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson on December 9, 2022 released Canada’s Critical Minerals Strategy, backed by up to $3.8 billion in federal funding allocated in Budget 2022 to support mining projects across various stages of production.

While not explicitly naming China, observers see the 58-page strategy document as a “clear attempt to eat into Beijing’s market share” following on the heels of similar strategies launched by the United States and the European Union (…) that explicitly name ‘breaking dependence’ on China as a goal.

Wilkinson told reporters at the launch event that

“[p]art of the critical minerals strategy from an international perspective is about geopolitics. (…) It’s about ensuring that not just Canada but democratic countries around the world have access to the resources they require in a manner that does not make them vulnerable in the same way we saw Germany, for example, become vulnerable to pressures from Russia.”

Only a few weeks ago, Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance publicly embraced the concept of “friend-shoring,” the concept in which “democracies must make a conscious effort to build tour supply chains through each other’s economies” in remarks at a Brookings Foundation event in Washington, D.C..

In keeping with the new Critical Minerals Strategy, earlier this week, at the UN Biodiversity conference (COP15) in Montreal, Canada, Wilkinson was joined by representatives of Australia, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States to announce the launch of the “Sustainable Critical Minerals Alliance to drive the global uptake of environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive and responsible development.”

According to the launch press release“[m]embers of the Alliance welcome and encourage collaboration with Indigenous communities, non-governmental organizations, industry and other non-state actors, as well as actions taken domestically and globally to advance the objectives of the Sustainable Critical Minerals Alliance and call on others to join.

The United States and Canada share a long special relationship which is “more than metaphorical” as ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty phrased it in a 2018 piece for Investors Business Daily. More recently, in 2020, the Canada-U.S. Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals was announced on 9 January 2020 to

“advance bilateral interest in securing supply chains for the critical minerals needed for strategic manufacturing sectors, including communication technology, aerospace and defense, and clean technology. The Action Plan is guiding cooperation between officials in areas such as industry engagement, innovation, defense supply chains, improving information sharing on mineral resources and potential, and cooperation in multilateral forums.” 

Both countries are also close partners within the context of several multilateral frameworks for allied cooperation such as the National Technology Industrial Base (NTIB), which, originally established to strengthen technology links between the U.S. and Canada in 1993, was expanded in 2016 to include the United Kingdom and Australia.

From a U.S. perspective, Canada’s new Critical Minerals Strategy and the launch of the Sustainable Critical Minerals Alliance are positive developments, but as ARPN previously noted in a similar context:

“[T]empting 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.”

The balancing act to reconcile green credentials with the acknowledged need for domestic resource development will not get any easier for the Biden Administration and other policy stakeholders.  “Friend-shoring” is a crucial piece of the resource security puzzle, but — in light of mounting demand and ever higher stakes of continued resource dependency — the only viable path to success in the long run lies in a comprehensive “all-of-the-above” policy approach from mine to manufacturing which encompasses fostering cooperation with allies and scaling up research and development while at the same time building out domestic production and processing capabilities along with recycling and closed-loop technology.