Ever since the first shots were fired in the US-China trade/tech/cold war in 2016, Beijing has frequently threatened to use its strategic position as the world’s pre-eminent supplier of rare earth metals – a group of 17 elements used in everything from sophisticated weapons to cell phones to wind turbines to electric cars – as potential leverage which it could wield in response to any perceived foreign (read US) aggression, even if it has so far refused to use this particular trump card. And with Sino-US relations deteriorating by the day, pushing China ever closer to the day it may in fact ban rare earth exports to the US, US House lawmakers are now taking advance measures for when that day finally comes, and have introduced a bipartisan bill aimed at seeking to curb US dependence on China for rare earths.
The legislation was co-authored by Republican Lance Gooden and Democrat Vicente Gonzalez, both of Texas, and is similar to that introduced in May by Senator Ted Cruz. Republicans Will Hurd, Roger Williams, Pete Olson and Randy Weber, as well as Democrat Henry Cuellar, are co-sponsors of the bill. All are Texas representatives. The measure would give tax incentives for companies involved in the mining, reclaiming and recycling of critical minerals and metals from deposits in the US, Bloomberg reported.
The bill is also part of a recent push in Congress to shift supply chains, especially in sectors viewed as critical for national defense, away from China and back toward the US; predictably, the effort has drawn broad support from domestic rare-earth companies which anticipate a major financial windfall should the bill pass.
“The tax incentive seeks to level the playing field with regard to the subsidies China provides from mine to magnet,” Pini Althaus, chief executive officer of USA Rare Earth, which is developing the Round Top Mountain deposit in Texas, said in a phone interview. “It would significantly improve the bottom line of any domestic rare earth project.”
Althaus also said the House measure which China would surely claim is a subsidy prohibited by the WTO, reduces the potential for China to dissuade investment in U.S.-based rare earth projects and supply chains, because those businesses will be better able to compete.
Last year, amid mounting concerns China would limit shipments of rare earths as the trade war escalated, Trump ordered the Defense Department to spur production of rare-earth magnets.
The legislation “lowers the cost of capital, which is the goal because China has lowered the cost of capital for their sector, and our sector needs to be able to compete,” Jim Litinsky, the incoming CEO of MP Materials, currently the sole U.S. miner of the minerals, said in a phone interview. “It’s probably the one thing I’ve seen everyone get behind.”