US & Australia to unveil rare earths plan to challenge China’s dominance
US President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison are expected to reveal a plan on Friday aimed at securing the supply of rare earth minerals.
The plan will be announced on growing concerns in the US that China could cut off shipments of the vital commodities. The country is the world’s largest processor and producer of the minerals, accounting for more than 80 percent of global processing capacity.
According to a senior administration official cited by Al Jazeera, the plan will be unveiled during a state visit by Morrison to the White House.
“Both countries share an interest in making sure the global supply of rare earths is stable and secure,” the official said, adding that they aim “to make sure there’s a stable and secure global market that’s not easily disrupted by shocks and outside influences.”
Rare earths or rare metals are a group of 17 chemical elements with special characteristics. The materials are actually not rare, despite their name, but they are difficult to find in the desirable concentrations and they are hard to process, as the ores often contain naturally occurring radioactive materials such as uranium and thorium.
The metals and alloys that contain them are used in many devices that people use every day such as computers, DVDs, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, catalytic converters, magnets, and fluorescent lighting.
Australia contains just 2.8 percent of the world’s rare earth reserves but accounts for more than half of the new projects in the global pipeline. Australia’s Lynas, the world’s largest rare earths miner and processor outside of China, is developing a processing plant in Texas. The company’s CEO Amanda Lacaze said last month that they were open to receiving US government funding to build it.
The United States has only one operational rare earths mine, but has no processing facilities.
The escalating US-China trade conflict has raised concerns about the measures each side could use in their fight, including Beijing’s option to restrict the export of rare earth metals.
The economic measure has been dubbed one of Beijing’s nuclear options in its battle with Washington due to the fact that China is the top producer of rare earth metals and holds the largest reserves.
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