US joins Canada, Australia to curb dependence on China minerals

The three nations join forces to help countries develop mineral reserves and lessen dependence on Chinese rare earths.

China Rare Earth Mine
The United States, Canada and Australia are joining forces to lessen dependence on rare earth minerals mined in China [File: Handout/Reuters]

The United States will team up with Canada and Australia to help countries around the world develop their reserves of minerals like lithium, copper and cobalt, the US State Department said on Tuesday.

The initiative is part of a multi-pronged strategy to reduce global reliance on China for materials crucial to high-tech industries.

Washington has grown more concerned recently about its dependence on mineral imports after Beijing suggested using them as leverage in the trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

Withholding rare earth minerals would interrupt the manufacture of a wide range of consumer, industrial and military goods, including everything from mobile phones to batteries to fighter jets.

“Over 80 percent of the global supply chain of rare earth elements is controlled by one country,” the State Department said in a fact sheet outlining the effort, which it has dubbed the Energy Resource Governance Initiative. “Reliance on any one source increases the risk of supply disruptions.”

Under the plan, the US will share mining expertise with other countries to help them discover and develop their resources, and advise on management and governance frameworks to help ensure their industries are attractive to international investors.

Doing so will help to ensure global supply for the minerals can meet world demand, which is projected to surge alongside the growing take-up in high-technology goods.

“Demand for critical energy minerals could increase almost 1,000% by 2050,” noted the fact sheet.

A US official said Canada and Australia, two major mining countries, were partnering in the effort, and that other allies could join later.

Representatives of Canada and Australia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The plan, which was first reported on Tuesday morning by the Financial Times, comes a week after the US Commerce Department recommended urgent steps to boost US domestic production of “critical minerals,” including providing low-interest loans to mining companies and requiring defence companies to “buy American”.

The Commerce Department report also recommended that US agencies review areas that are currently protected from development and assess whether those restrictions should be lifted or reduced to allow for critical minerals development.  

Source: Reuters