While President Trump easily shrugged off the coronavirus and emerged from Walter Reed hospital “feeling better than I have in 20 years” he certainly isn’t shrugging off the ongoing threat of communist China and the death grip the Communist Chinese Party is trying to establish and maintain with a worldwide monopoly on rare earth elements and critical mineral production.
Unfortunately, raising awareness about the need for Secure Domestic Production and Processing of Rare Earth Elements (REE) has always been a difficult task even before the COVID 19 crisis and election year politics dominated this year’s mainstream media. President Trump’s latest executive order is the culmination of years of effort to wrest control of these essential minerals from the monopolizing grip of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the country estimated to hold 80% of REE mining and production capacity.
Rare earth elements are all the important metals required for modern manufacturing. While they aren’t actually rare, they are difficult to mine economically, especially when restrictive environmental regulations and prolonged permitting processes drive up production costs that drive away REE mine investors. They are the 17 mined minerals with exotic names such as “praseodymium” and the spell check buster “ytterbium”. All 17 on the USGS list are deemed critical to the defense industry’s manufacturing of missiles, munitions, advanced hypersonic weapons, and radiation-hardened electronics. But the REE group metals are also essential for manufacturing everyday consumer products and components including:
- computer memory
- display screens
- LED lighting
- rechargeable batteries
- cell phones
- catalytic converters for emission control on cars and trucks
- fluorescent lighting and much more.
On October 2, 2020, in their article Trump Executive Order Targets Rare Earths Minerals and China, Defense News reported on the president’s latest executive order declaring a national emergency in the mining industry to accelerate domestic mining production of critical rare earth minerals that are essential for national security and defense. This is the president’s follow-up action to his December 20, 2017, Executive Order 13817, A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals. The critical minerals under the 2017 Executive order lists 35 substances including:
Aluminum (bauxite), antimony, arsenic, barite, beryllium, bismuth, cesium, chromium, cobalt, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite (natural), hafnium, helium, indium, lithium, magnesium, manganese, niobium, platinum group metals, potash, the rare earth elements group, rhenium, rubidium, scandium, strontium, tantalum, tellurium, tin, titanium, tungsten, uranium, vanadium, and zirconium.
Trump vs the CCP: A 3-Year Rare Earth Trade Battle
President Trump’s Executive Order 13817 efforts have been ongoing since 2017, including the identification of domestic sources of critical minerals, efforts to develop faster, streamlined permitting processes for new mining ventures, and finding new and more reliable sources of those critical minerals to reduce and eventually eliminate reliance on the unpredictable CCP. On June 17, 2020, the Chinese upped the ante when their state-controlled media publicly threatened to cut off rare earth supplies to US defense contractors. They’ve done it before to Japan to drive cost and production prices through the roof, and they’ve also used the tactic to drive market prices higher while they sit on 80% of the world’s supplies of REE.
The Chinese National Development and Reform Commission, or NDRC, isn’t threatening the US with the typical generalized embargos and boycott threats we’ve seen from them in the recent past. Now, with the 2020 global supply chain conveniently weakened by the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan China itself, the CCP is attempting to exploit the crisis as economic leverage in the ongoing trade war with a troubling focus on the US defense industrial base.
China has threatened to choke off the REE supply exports to U.S. defense manufacturers specifically, along with any American contractors that refuse to do business with their notorious Huawei Corporation. Huawei was founded by a former Chinese military officer and has long been suspected of “back door” telecom spying and for acting as a conduit into US government and industry for the CCP.
At Resource Erectors we’ve been tracking the rare earth elements crisis for several years now, a vitally important issue for US national security, the US mining industry, and the US manufacturing sectors overall. Last January of 2020 we reported on how Critical Mineral Collaboration: The US, Canada, and Australia Could Take China Out of the Equation. Now in the final quarter of 2020, as we’ve seen international supply chains disrupted from overseas sources all year, it’s obvious why President Trump has recognized and declared the REE national emergency for the mining industry.
If there is any benefit to the supply chain disruptions we’ve experienced in 2020 due to the coronavirus shutdowns worldwide, it’s that the US is now completely aware of the hazards of relying on imports from foreign sources in general and Communist China specifically when it comes to rare earth mineral resources that are essential for the US defense industrial base, the manufacturing sector, and the security of the nation and the economy.
A Jump Start For Rare Earth Mining in the US
For the US mining industry, President Trump’s national emergency declaration can be the long-overdue catalyst we’ve been waiting for. Mine-permitting reform would help get U.S. supplies of critical minerals flowing again, and allow us to build up stockpiles that will break the CCP monopoly. The US mining industry is poised for a significant jump-start.
President Trump’s ongoing focus and effort to move the US to independence from CCP exports can open a vast array of opportunities for domestic rare earth mining. New investment of venture capital is now much more feasible by making it cost-effective to open new sites as well as to re-evaluate and activate the old US sites that have always been rich in deposits but shut down by overreaching regulations and permitting red tape.
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