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Chinese Worries over Critical Mineral Supply Should Provide Impetus for U.S. Policy Reforms

Escalating trade tensions have brought the issue of China’s near-total supply monopoly for Rare Earth Elements back to the front pages of American newspapers.

If that isn’t reason enough for policy makers to use the momentum that has been building for the formulation of a comprehensive critical mineral strategy and an overhaul of policies standing in the way of responsible domestic resource development, a little-noticed Nasdaq piece should provide some additional impetus:

“China ministry warns about reliance on imports of strategic minerals” – such is the headline of said piece which, citing a transcript of a press briefing posted on the Chinese Ministry of Natural Resources, reports that China remains “heavily reliant on imports of oil, battery metals and other minerals, while the growth in domestic reserves has slowed.” 

The report pegged the level of import reliance at 72 percent for nickel, 73 percent for iron ore and copper, 75 percent for lithium, 79 percent for gold and 90 percent for cobalt.

China, the story says, is “worried” about its supply of these key materials as “[w]ith the rebound in international mineral prices, China’s mineral import costs have risen sharply,” leading ministry officials to call for more “international mining cooperation,” which, according to Nasdaq is “a reference to Chinese involvement in overseas mining projects.”

The bottom line is, if China — which has long been thinking strategically about critical minerals, and acting accordingly all over the globe — is worried about securing a steady supply of critical mineral resources, we should be, too.  Opportunity is knocking with several key provisions in the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), as well as the groundwork laid with the DOI critical minerals list. The stakes are too high to squander it.