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U.S. and Australia to Roll Out “Mutually Beneficial” Action Plan to Improve Security and Supply of Rare Earths

Building on recent agency-level talks the United States and Australia have used the occasion of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s week long state visit to the United States to formally announce the forthcoming roll out of an “action plan” to counter Chinese dominance in the critical minerals sector, and specifically the Rare Earths sector.

According to news reports the plan will “open a new front against China in a widening technology and trade war by exploiting Australian reserves of the rare earths and other materials that are essential for products ranging from iPhones to batteries and hybrid cars.”

Ahead of the formal state dinner at the White House (which Morrison is only the second world leader to be treated to by President Trump after France’s Emmanuel Macron), a senior U.S. administration official had briefed media on the action plan stating that:

“[w]e’re going to be rolling out a plan to improve security and supply of rare earth in a way that is mutually beneficial to both countries and strengthens our — both security — our physical security and our economic security.”

Last month, the U.S. Department of Defense had announced it was in talks with Australia “to host a facility that would process rare earth minerals, part of an effort to reduce reliance on China for the specialized materials used in military equipment,” an announcement that followed on the heels of a partnership agreement between the U.S., Australia and Japan which includes the setting up of a separation facility in the U.S..

The growing realization that the materials science revolution requires a more comprehensive, strategic and concerted approach to resource policy than that pursued by the United States to date is a welcome development.  

However, as ARPN’s Dan McGroarty recently outlined, decades of failure to prioritize mineral resource policy issues have left a mark, and big questions remain:

“How will China respond to the new U.S. action?  And how quickly can the U.S. close the rare earths gap — with production today at zero, even as known U.S. rare earth resources exist — before China loses its leverage over materials the U.S. Government has deemed critical to ‘the national economy and national security?’” 

As the tech war deepens, our odds are increasing in light of increased cooperation with allied nations like Australia.