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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • President Xi Jinping’s “Coronation” Adds Fuel to the Fire to Decouple Critical Mineral Supply Chains from China

    With pressures rising on critical mineral supply chains as nations rush to flesh out environmental initiatives before the COP27 climate change summit kicks off in Sharm El Sheikh next month, the stakes for the United States and its allies to “decouple” from adversary nations — in the new U.S. National Security Strategy, read:  China — may have gotten even higher with China’s Communist Party (CCP) confirming President Xi Jinping for another term in office this past Sunday.

    In what effectively amounted to a “coronation,” as the Wall Street Journal editorial board phrased it, the CCP’s move has effectively “confirm[ed] China’s combination of aggressive nationalism and Communist ideology that is the single biggest threat to world freedom.” 

    Mr. Xi’s confirmation to another term was hardly a surprise, but in his landmark speech addressing the CCP Congress, he emphasized the the need to increase China’s self-sufficiency in technology and supply chains, and reaffirmed China’s commitment to attaining control over Taiwan — a key point of contention in the country’s relations with the United States, which have already starkly deteriorated in recent years.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the “coronation” “all but guarantees an era of confrontation between China and the U.S.”

    Aware that “China has big footed a lot of the technology and supply chains that could end up making us vulnerable if we don’t develop our own supply chains,” as U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm phrased it earlier this summer, the United States and its partners have stepped up efforts to decouple from China.

    These may become all the more pressing in light of current fears, as Damon Kitney reports for The Australian, that China may seek to retaliate after the U.S. Department of Commerce announced sweeping limitations to semiconductor and chip-making equipment sales to Chinese customers this fall.

    Speaking to a private forum in Melbourne, earlier this month, Australia’s former Ambassador to the U.S. and federal Treasurer Joe Hockey told attendees:

    “In terms of critical minerals, my concern is – and there has started to be a few reports in the US suggesting this – is that after the midterm elections, and with a re-empowered (Chinese President) Xi Jinping, as of next year China will start to turn down the tap on the supply of critical minerals to the US and other places.”

    Followers of ARPN have long known that China is no stranger to playing politics with its near-total rare earths supply monopoly, and just last year, we saw the country threatening to limit rare earth shipments to U.S. defense contractors over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

    Thankfully, U.S. domestic efforts to bolster supply chains can be complemented with leveraging close cooperation with allied nations including Canada and Australia.

    Australia is ready to step up its rare earths game and challenge China in this segment.  As Phil Mercer writes for BBC News, Sydney“Australia, a superpower exporter of iron ore and coal with rich mining traditions believes it is well-placed to join the race to exploit minerals that provide critical parts for electric vehicles and wind turbines.” He cites John Coyne of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, who — while warning that China will not easily surrender its dominance of the sector — says:

    “Australia has the world’s sixth-largest reserves of rare earth minerals. However, they remain largely untapped with only two mines producing them.  There is significant potential in the establishment of multi-ore mineral-processing hubs in Australia. After all, there is no point in creating supply chain resilience for [rare earth] ores if miners must still send them to China for processing.”

    Mercer points to the U.S. Defense Department’s deal with Australian miner Lynas Rare Earths, which has been contracted to construct a REE processing facility in the U.S..

    In the same vein,  the Canadian government has inked an agreement with Rio Tinto to jointly invest $737 million to modernize the company’s Sorel-Tracy, Quebec metals processing plant, with  Rio Tinto’ chief executive Jakob Stausholm warning of the “excesses of globalization” in critical mineral supply chains. The move is said to strengthen “North America’s first production capacity for titanium metal, a lightweight but strong material important to aerospace and defense groups such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin.” 

    Stateside, the U.S. Department of Energy has just announced the first round of funding under the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure act for projects aimed at “supercharging” U.S. manufacturing of batteries for electric vehicles and electric grid — another important step in the decoupling from adversaries like China.

    With a newly-emboldened Mr. Xi reportedly seeing the possibility of a showdown with the West as “increasingly likely”in the context of his goal to “restore China to what he believes is its rightful place as a global player and a peer of the U.S,” as the Wall Street Journal writes, these efforts could not be more urgent.

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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.’” 

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  • U.S. Allies Take Steps to Secure Critical Mineral Resource Supply Chains

    The toilet paper shortage of 2020 may be a thing of the past – or perhaps an annual event… –  but roughly a year and half since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, consumers continue to feel the pinch of supply chain challenges across all industry sectors.  For ARPN, with due appreciation of the dislocations and the [...]
  • Close Allies Map Critical Mineral Cooperation

    “Do I have to draw you a map?” As idioms go, that phrase is much nicer than the message it intends – but it’s apt for a new exercise linking the collective expertise of the geological surveys of Australia, Canada and the U.S.: an interactive world map of deposits of rare earths and other critical [...]
  • 100-Day Supply Chain Report — Striking a Balance Between Strengthening Domestic Resource Development and Cooperation With Allies

    In its just-released 100-Day Supply Chain Report, the Biden Administration has committed to an “all of the above” approach to critical minerals — a “wrap-around strategy” that includes recycling, substitution, as well as new mining, as Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm told U.S. Senators earlier this month. While investing in “sustainable production, refining, and recycling [...]
  • Event Alert: “Critical Minerals Forum 2021” – A February Webinar Series on Critical Mineral Research

    It’s 2021, and the wild ride 2020 has taken us on continues. There were quite a few developments in the critical minerals realm over the past few months (for a recap see our two summary posts here and here, but if you thought things were about to slow down, you might be wrong. While emphases [...]
  • Europe Comes to Terms with Mineral Supply Challenges, Unveils Action Plan

    As the U.S. explores its options when it comes to diversifying our critical minerals supply chains away from China in the wake of COVID-19, Europe is coming to grips with its own mineral supply challenges. According to European metals association Eurometaux, the region “has reached a critical fork in the road,” as it grapples with [...]
  • Russia Pushes for Global Rare Earth Market Share as U.S. Struggles to Move Forward With Critical Minerals Initiatives

    Russia is certainly making headlines this week.  Quite obviously, much of the media attention is focused around President Vladimir Putin’s declaration that Russia has approved a vaccine for the coronavirus (after less than two months of testing) — but developments in the critical minerals realm also warrant attention: A top Russian government official has told [...]
  • 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”: [...]
  • U.S. and Australia Formalize Critical Minerals Partnership

    The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has signed a project agreement with its Australian counterpart, GeoScience Australia, to jointly develop a “better understanding of both countries’ critical mineral reserves.”  The agreement is the result of ongoing agency-level talks between the United States and Australia and the recent announcement of a forthcoming formal roll out of an “action [...]

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