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Independence Day 2021 — Towards Greater Mineral Resource Independence?

After a long wait — with many parades and fireworks honor the men and women who have fought for, and continue to safeguard our freedoms canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic — Independence Day 2021 is upon us. With many of the pandemic-related restrictions lifted, celebrating our freedoms this year feels a little more special.

From a critical mineral resource perspective, we at ARPN have always used the occasion of Independence Day to remind ourselves that “while we cherish the freedom we are blessed with in so many ways, we must not become complacent, as there are areas where we’re increasingly becoming less independent” — with our reliance on foreign mineral resources being a case in point.

If the coronavirus pandemic has made one thing clear, it’s that this statement rings more true than ever.

As ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty argued in a piece for Real Clear Politics last March, “[t]he rapid spread of the coronavirus is doing more than claim an alarming number of human hosts — it is burning through decades of bureaucratic inertia and plain inattention as the American economic ecosystem has become dangerously dependent on China.”

The good news is that stakeholders have begun to realize the extent of our mineral resource supply chain vulnerabilities, which significantly increased over the course of the past 65 years.

Whereas the number of non-fuel mineral commodities for which the United States was greater than 50% net import-dependent was 28 in 1954, this number increased to 47 in 2014. And while the U.S. was 100% net import reliant for 8 of the non-fuel commodities analyzed in 1954, this total import reliance increased to 11 non-fuel minerals in 1984, and currently stands at 17. In the latest USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries report, China continues to be the elephant in the data room, listed 24 times as one of the major import sources of metals and minerals for which U.S. net import reliance is 50% or greater. While the 2021 tally is down by one, that change is owed only to the fact that garnet has slightly dropped in import reliance.

In spite of those numbers being largely unchanged from the previous year, 2020 yielded some important progress with regards to policies aimed at reducing our over-reliance on foreign, and especially Chinese metals and minerals. Executive Order 13953 declared a critical minerals national security emergency, with several key provisions of Executive Order later codified in the Energy Act of 2020. The National Defense Authorization Act included key critical mineral provisions, as we noted at the time. And while some were concerned that America’s hyper-partisan climate might put progress on the critical mineral front in peril, the Biden Administration has officially embraced an “all of the above” strategy, which, as ARPN has long held, will go far in promoting the innovation and investment required to advance American resource independence.

One should note, however, that as we’re looking to secure our domestic supply chains, we’re not seeking full independence from our friends, but rather, from adversary nations. As such, strengthening domestic resource production as well as processing and closer cooperation with our friends and allies should not be considered mutually exclusive strategies. While promoting sustainable domestic resource development (and with best wishes for a happy Canada Day today) the U.S. can draw on its special relationship with our neighbors to the North, which we featured earlier this week, along with other close allies.

As we noted earlier this week, striking the right balance will be key as the Administration moves forward to implement the recommendations from its 100 Day Supply Chain Report. As we celebrate Independence Day 2021, there is reason to be optimistic that we’re on the right path.