Friday 19th July 2019

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Posts tagged ‘china’

The U.S. Department of Commerce announces a strategy to ensure critical minerals supply

July 16th, 2019

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Washington continues critical inquiries into rare earths and uranium supply chains

July 15th, 2019

by Greg Klein | July 15, 2019

While somewhat relaxing its concern about uranium, the U.S. appears increasingly worried about rare earths supply. A Reuters exclusive says Washington has begun an inventory to itemize domestic RE projects.

Washington continues critical inquiries into rare earths and uranium supply chains

With an inventory of domestic RE projects
already underway, the U.S. called for a study
of uranium supply chain potential.

“The Pentagon wants miners to describe plans to develop U.S. rare earths mines and processing facilities, and asked manufacturers to detail their needs for the minerals, according to the document, which is dated June 27,” the news agency reported. “Responses are required by July 31, a short time frame that underscores the Pentagon’s urgency.”

The request mentions the possibility of investment by the military, Reuters added.

The move marks another development in American plans to reduce the country’s dependency on critical minerals from economic and geopolitical rivals. Last month the U.S. announced a new critical minerals strategy calling for closer co-operation with allies. Out of an official list of 35 critical minerals, rare earths repeatedly come up for special attention. China supplies 80% of American demand for this economic and military essential, with more imports coming indirectly from China. Compounding the conundrum is the fact that America’s only rare earths mine, Mountain Pass in California, ships its entire output to China.

Last month Reuters stated that U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau instructed their officials “to develop a joint action plan on critical minerals collaboration.”

But if heightened American urgency about some critical minerals looks positive for Canadian projects, so does a reduction in urgency about U.S. uranium supplies.

Cameco Corp TSX:CCO expressed itself pleased with Trump’s decision not to introduce new trade restrictions on uranium imports.

The president disagreed with a July 12 report stating that the country’s heavy reliance on imports threaten to impair U.S. national security. The secretary of commerce found the country’s foreign dependency now accounts for 93% of American uranium supply, up from 85.8% in 2009. The secretary attributed the number to “increased production by foreign state-owned enterprises, which have distorted global prices and made it more difficult for domestic mines to compete,” the White House stated.

But, citing significant concerns nonetheless, Trump called for the creation of a nuclear fuel working group “to develop recommendations for reviving and expanding domestic nuclear fuel production” within 90 days.

Cameco president/CEO Tim Gitzel said the company “also sees tremendous value in increasing co-operation between the United States and Canada to address critical mineral issues and strengthen security of supply on a North American, rather than strictly national, basis.”

Trump and Trudeau’s commitment to a joint action plan “is an excellent initiative, and we see uranium being a key component of that strategy,” Gitzel added.

The U.S. report results from a petition by Energy Fuels TSX:EFR and Ur-Energy TSX:URE, who together took credit for over half of U.S. uranium production in 2017. Yet their estimates for last year showed total domestic production supplied only about 2% of U.S. demand.

The companies called for a 25% domestic quota on uranium purchases in the U.S., suggesting state-owned companies in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan keep prices below a profitable threshold for American producers. The Eurasian trio provided about one-third of U.S. demand in 2017.

“If Russia and its allies take control of this critical fuel, the threat to U.S. national and energy security would be incalculable,” the companies maintained.

Rate cuts, bubble-like stock valuations and possible QE with “new non-traditional” interventions look good for gold: WGC

July 11th, 2019

by Greg Klein | July 11, 2019

Some recent dips below $1,400 notwithstanding, yellow metal’s forecast looks positive for the next six to 12 months, according to the World Gold Council. While long-term performance depends on jewelry, technology and savings, shorter-term prices respond to other factors that the WGC considers positive for its favourite element.

Chief among them are interest rates, reflecting an about-face in global monetary policy. Less than a year ago the U.S. Federal Reserve and investors alike expected continued rate increases, the council stated. “Now, the market expects the Fed to cut rates two or three times before the end of the year. And while statements by board members, including Chairman Powell, are signaling a wait-and-see approach, the market has barely changed its forecast. The Fed may not do what the market asks, but it generally doesn’t like to surprise it either.”

The WGC expects Europe’s and Japan’s central banks to follow suit in a global environment of competing tariffs, U.S.-Iran conflict and the ever-looming Brexit. But, the WGC emphasizes, low rates have “the perverse effect of fueling a decade-long stock market rally with only temporary pullbacks. This has pushed stock valuations to levels not seen since the dot-com bubble.”

Should recession strike, central banks might respond with strategies almost guaranteed to bolster goldbugs’ hoarding instincts: “quantitative easing and, possibly, new non-traditional measures to reinvigorate the global economy.”

With over $13 trillion of global debt now offering nominal negative yields, “our analysis shows that 70% of all developed market debt is trading with negative real yields, with the remaining 30% close to or below 1%.”

As for central bank purchases, they came to about $10 billion during the year’s first five months, with continued buying expected. But a 10-year average shows central banks responsible for only 10% of gold demand. Jewelry commands the lead with 51%, followed by 27% for bars and coins, 9% for technology, and 3% for ETFs and similar products.

Positive economic performance, especially in China and India, would likely enhance the top category.

With a mandate to “stimulate and sustain demand for gold,” the WGC represents some of the world’s biggest gold miners.

Download the WGC’s Mid-Year Gold Outlook 2019.

Commerce Resources to provide rare earths and byproduct samples to potential customers

July 5th, 2019

by Greg Klein | July 5, 2019

Commerce Resources to provide rare earths and byproduct samples to potential customers

 

With trade tensions once again demonstrating the need for rare earths supply outside China, Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE announced plans for its advanced-stage Ashram deposit in northern Quebec. The company intends to resume pilot plant metallurgical work, provide rare earths samples to interested parties and also upgrade its potential fluorspar byproduct.

Using lab facilities in Colorado, Commerce plans to produce several kilograms of material for companies that have requested samples. The lab will also work on upgrading the deposit’s fluorspar from metallurgical grade to the usually more expensive acid grade.

An essential ingredient for coolants used in refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners, acid grade fluorspar is also integral to processing uranium and aluminum. Like rare earths, fluorspar ranks among the 35 critical minerals listed by the United States. Over 60% of 2018 global production came from China, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. NorFalco Sales, a division of Glencore Canada Corp, has requested the fluorspar sample.

The pilot plant work will complement Commerce’s pre-feasibility studies as the Ashram deposit progresses.

Using Ashram material, the Colorado plant has already produced high-grade concentrates above 45% total rare earth oxides with recovery surpassing 70%, “comparable to current and past hard rock producers,” Commerce noted.

Separate, Quebec-funded studies at l’Université Laval produced a mixed rare earth oxide concentrate from Ashram material, showing the deposit’s versatility to processing procedures.

A key advantage of Ashram lies in its carbonatite-hosted mineralization and relatively simple monazite, bastnasite and xenotime mineralogy, amenable to conventional rare earths processing.

The near-surface deposit hosts a 2012 resource estimate using a 1.25% cutoff to show:

  • measured: 1.59 million tonnes averaging 1.77% total rare earth oxides

  • indicated: 27.67 million tonnes averaging 1.9% TREO

  • inferred: 219.8 million tonnes averaging 1.88% TREO

Ashram also features strong distribution of the high-demand magnet feed elements neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium.

In a report issued last month, Adamas Intelligence stated that permanent magnets accounted for over 90% of TREO consumption by value last year. “This share is poised to expand further as demand (and prices) for neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium continue to rise strongly in the years ahead.”

Ashram’s distinctions suggest the project could require a relatively smaller metallurgical plant, along with potentially lower capex and opex, Commerce stated.

Last May Commerce and two Inuit organizations signed a letter of intent to ensure participation as the project moves forward.

At another critical minerals project just a few kilometres away, Saville Resources TSXV:SRE works towards a 75% earn-in from Commerce on the Niobium Claim Group. Following a spring drill program that found high-grade, near-surface niobium along with tantalum and phosphate, Saville looks forward to a Phase II campaign.

In southern British Columbia, Commerce also holds the advanced-stage Blue River tantalum-niobium deposit.

Read more about China’s dominance in global rare earths supply.

‘The money-conjurers’

July 3rd, 2019

Only a radical reset can solve the central bank problem, says Nomi Prins

by Greg Klein

Only a radical reset can solve the central bank problem, says Nomi Prins

 

Imagine the power—unchecked power, at that—to create money. Then imagine the disaster such power could unleash. While that scenario looms in the foreseeable future, Nomi Prins argues, its precursors have made themselves obvious since 2008. They’re the result of central bank policies and the system that sustains them, institutions absolutely bereft of a Plan B. A mess so manifestly dangerous calls for radical solutions, she maintains.

That’s the perspective of an insider, or at least an ex-insider. A veteran of Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and Goldman Sachs, Prins dedicated herself “to exposing the intersections of money and power and deciphering the impact of the relationships between governments and central and private bankers on the citizens of the world.” Six books later came Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, recently released in paperback.

This is a work of extensive detail, recounting who did what to interest rates, inflation rates, currency valuations and other economic interventions, focusing on quantitative easing and the other euphemisms for her preferred term: “money conjuring.” Collusion also answers a key question: Cui bono?

Only a radical reset can solve the central bank problem, says Nomi Prins

The U.S. responded to the sub-prime crisis by “subsidizing private banks (in particular, the Big Six US banks that were key toxic asset creators). The Fed fashioned an historic bailout program that invoked zero interest rate policy (ZIRP), initiated a strategy of quantitative easing by which the central bank fabricated money to purchase government bonds and other securities, and created massive lending programs for banks with relaxed collateral rules. The Fed coerced central banks worldwide to adopt similar strategies.”

With little or no trickle-down effect, she emphasizes. If the too-big-to-fail rationale claimed to protect the wider economy, the wider economy didn’t notice. Through share buy-backs and other strategies, banks used the largesse to enrich themselves instead of providing loans or investments that would put more people to work. G7 banks also used conjured money to “speculate globally, especially in developing countries, in markets rather than in direct economic investment that benefited populations.”

Only in isolated incidents were malefactors called to account. That happened in late 2016, for example, when the U.S. Justice Department hit European Central Bank beneficiary Deutsche Bank with $7.2 billion in fines “for crimes committed during the financial crisis—a sign of all that conjured-money policy had plastered over…. All the cheap-money subterfuge had not addressed the prevailing and alarming codependencies among too-big-to-fail banks the world over. That meant systemic risk had not been extinguished, it had only been camouflaged. The fine was just that, a fine, not a shift to prevent any of the looming hazards the financial system could still unleash.”

Facing even less scrutiny than private banks are central banks, rarely required to explain their machinations. “They vacillate between taking credit for what they deem are positive results in the world economy and remaining silent in the wake of catastrophic failures that result from their policies.”

While G7 central banks collaborated with the Fed, some of their G20 counterparts resisted. Regardless, globalization globalized America’s crisis. But despite U.S. efforts to reinforce world influence, the country inadvertently helped China rise to second-greatest economy status with a currency that challenges dollar supremacy. Contributing to the Middle Kingdom’s stature were some emerging economies, distrustful not only of America’s ambitions but its economic stability.

The Fed has allowed the biggest banks on Wall Street to essentially double the risk that devastated the system in 2008.—Nomi Prins

Current and future stability, more than past misconduct, remains Prins’ greatest concern. “The Fed has allowed the biggest banks on Wall Street to essentially double the risk that devastated the system in 2008.”

She attributes to manufactured money a global debt equal to three times global GDP, a peril that could itself crash the economy or seriously aggravate a crisis of geopolitical origin. As for solutions, she insists that desperate times call for very desperate measures:

“We could write off all the public debt incurred since 2008 that hasn’t been redirected to the real economy—that is, take a deep breath and cancel it out globally.”

Prins also advocates oversight of the money-conjurers, as well as forcing them to channel their money into constructive investments. She wants the big banks dismantled “so that they can’t hold people’s deposits hostage during the next crisis.”

But, assuming her proposals are sound, where’s the will to carry them out? She depicts G7 countries and central banks as stuck in conventional attitudes and clinging to privilege with no impetus for reform. Emerging economies, meanwhile, might be watching with cautious detachment. China, quite likely, looks on expectantly.

Nomi Prins speaks at the Sprott Natural Resource Symposium, held in Vancouver from July 30 to August 2. Click here for more details.

Rick Rule comments on China’s possible use of rare earths as a trade war weapon

June 24th, 2019

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New neodymium and dysprosium sources needed by 2030 to avert shortages: Adamas Intelligence

June 19th, 2019

by Greg Klein | June 19, 2019

As the U.S.-China trade conflict intensifies concern about critical metals, Adamas Intelligence publishes a readable guide to rare earths—what they are, where they come from and what they’re used for.

“In just a period of decades, rare earth elements have seeped deeply into the fabric of modern technology and industry and have proven exceptionally challenging to duplicate or replace,” states the report entitled Rare Earth Elements: Small Market, Big Necessity.

New neodymium and dysprosium sources needed by 2030 to avert shortages: Adamas Intelligence

Image: Ascannio/Shutterstock.com

Of eight categories of end uses, permanent magnets and catalysts garnered over 60% of world demand for total rare earth oxides last year, according to the independent research and advisory firm.

By value, permanent magnets alone surpassed 90% of TREO consumption. “This share is poised to expand further as demand (and prices) for neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium continue to rise strongly in the years ahead.”

Looking forward a decade, Adamas forecast that “global annual demand for neodymium oxide and dysprosium oxide (or oxide equivalents) will substantially exceed global annual production by 2030, leading to the depletion of historically accumulated inventories and, ultimately, shortages of these critical magnet materials if additional sources of supply are not developed.”

Outside China, Adamas reports only 8.49 million tonnes of in-situ TREO in 17 deposits considered compliant by NI 43-101, JORC or South Africa’s SAMREC regulations. Located in 10 nations on five continents, just two are in operation: Lynas Corp’s Mount Weld mine in Western Australia and MP Materials’ Mountain Pass mine in California.

The numbers shoot way up and China takes prominence when U.S. Geological Survey data on both compliant and non-compliant deposits is considered. China’s share of the approximate world total of 120 million tonnes comes to about 38%. Another 19% each is ascribed to Brazil and Vietnam, 10% to Russia, and the rest to India, Australia, the U.S. and other countries “presumably dominated by Canada and Greenland.”

Mine production demonstrates China’s overall dominance, which is further confirmed by refining.

Adamas estimates last year’s global TREO and TREO-equivalent mining at 184,000 tonnes, with the Middle Kingdom responsible for 68% of primary production and nearly 100% of secondary production.

Last year’s global production rose 21% over 2017, which Adamas attributed to substantial production hikes in China, Myanmar and the U.S., where Mountain Pass re-opened following the bankruptcy of its former owner.

Additional primary producers were Myanmar (11%), Australia (10%), the U.S. (9%) and others (2%). Virtually all non-Chinese miners rely on China for concentrating and separating rare earths. Lynas stands out as the prominent exception.

The company has a processing facility in Malaysia, but that country has threatened to shut it down by September if Lynas doesn’t remove 450,000 tonnes of low-level radioactive waste accumulated over seven years. Malaysia’s energy and environment minister and Western Australia’s mines minster were to discuss moving the waste to WA, but the Malaysian counterpart postponed a meeting scheduled for June 20 “pending further developments,” Reuters stated. The WA state government has already stated its refusal to accept the waste.

Download the Adamas Intelligence report Rare Earth Elements: Small Market, Big Necessity.

Read more about rare earths and other critical metals.

Towards a critical resource

June 13th, 2019

Saville Resources exceeds historic high grades for niobium-tantalum in Quebec

by Greg Klein

The project’s first drill campaign in nine years poses a big question: Why was this the project’s first drill campaign in nine years?

Saville Resources/Commerce Resources report best-yet niobium hole from Quebec critical minerals project

Saville president Mike Hodge examines
core at the Niobium Claim Group.

Even in the face of highly encouraging historic niobium-tantalum results, this program’s first hole exceeded expectations. More near-surface high grades and wide widths followed, culminating in a fourth hole that surpassed them all. Now Saville Resources TSXV:SRE looks forward to more drilling to build an inferred resource on the Niobium Claim Group in northern Quebec’s Labrador Trough.

But why the nine-year hiatus? The answer can be illustrated by Commerce Resources’ (TSXV:CCE) Ashram rare earths deposit, two kilometres away. Moving that project towards pre-feasibility took precedence, even when the company found strong niobium-tantalum intercepts on another part of its Eldor property. To give these other critical minerals their due, Commerce and Saville signed an agreement last year allowing the latter company to earn 75% of the 1,223-hectare niobium claims.

Additional high-grade boulder samples renewed interest in a number of prospective areas but Saville’s initial drill program in spring 2019 targeted Mallard, the most advanced zone with 17 historic holes totalling 4,328 metres. The new program added five holes (one hole was lost) and 1,049 metres.

“We were confident that we could improve on the historic drill results and we did that,” notes Saville president Mike Hodge.

Near-surface highlights from the best hole showed 0.8% Nb2O5 over 31.5 metres, 0.79% over 37 metres, 0.67% over 19.95 metres and 0.5% over 33.5 metres. Eleven individual samples from that hole exceeded 1%, with one sample reaching as high as 1.68% over 1.5 metres. (True widths were unknown.) Tantalum and phosphate also brought strong numbers.

A 50-metre step-out east of another of the campaign’s successful holes, 50 metres southeast of a second and 200 metres southeast of a third, EC19-174A was also proximal to impressive historic results.

Saville Resources exceeds historic high grades for niobium-tantalum in Quebec

In just a few of the recent highlights, however, EC19-173 featured 0.66% Nb2O5 over 14.5 metres. EC19-171 hit 0.7% over 38.28 metres, including 1.1% over 5.41 metres. EC19-172 reached 0.62% over 19 metres.

Among tantalum grades were 274 ppm Ta2O5 over 100.8 metres from EC19-172, and 267 ppm over 26 metres from EC19-171.

The step-outs extend Mallard’s strike 100 metres southeast and also suggest a possible northern extension towards the project’s Miranna and Spoke targets, as yet undrilled.

That’s despite very high-grade boulder samples from Miranna showing 2.75%, 4.24%, 4.3% and an exceptional 5.93% Nb2O5.

“These are still untested targets which we believe could have significantly higher grades than Mallard,” says Hodge. “But my first goal would be an inferred near-surface resource in the Mallard area.”

Contributing to that would be historic data, which includes intervals of 0.82% Nb2O5 over 21.9 metres, 0.9% over 4.8 metres and 1.09% over 5.8 metres.

In all, the Niobium Claim Group underwent 41 historic holes for 8,175 metres, with all field work since 2008 conducted by Dahrouge Geological Consulting. Saville has so far exceeded its first-year spending commitment of $750,000 out of a five-year, $5-million exploration agenda that would earn 75% of the project from Commerce.

But if Miranna’s 5.93% Nb2O5 sample looks outstanding, another boulder collected west of the project’s Northwest area soared up to 16.1%, also showing 7,540 ppm Ta2O5.

“That was the highest, but there were plenty in the 3% to 6% niobium range,” Hodge emphasizes.

Saville Resources exceeds historic high grades for niobium-tantalum in Quebec

With overlapping boulder trains on the property, “there are a few locations they could be coming from,” he adds. “But the likelihood of it coming from the Spoke or Miranna areas would be the highest probability.”

Other areas of interest include the Northwest zone, northwest of Miranna. Location of 11 historic holes totalling 2,257 metres, its results included 0.61% Nb2O5 over 12 metres.

South of Mallard, the Star Trench area has four historic holes for 664 metres, with results including 1.5% Nb2O5 and 1,810 ppm Ta2O5 over 0.52 metres, and 1.69% Nb2O5 and 2,220 ppm Ta2O5 over 0.31 metres.

Niobium and tantalum both rank on the U.S. list of 35 critical minerals. Heightened concern has brought concerted American efforts to develop reliable sources and create supply chains domestically and with allied countries. In early June the U.S. unveiled its Energy Resource Governance Initiative to work with allies as part of the president’s critical minerals strategy announced a few days earlier.

Imports provide America’s total supply of both niobium and tantalum. Niobium, used for alloys and super-alloys in jet engines, rockets and other manufactures, comes to the U.S. mostly from one company in Brazil. According to 2018 figures from the U.S. Geological Survey, Brazil mined 88.2% of global supply, while Canada extracted another 10.3%.

Tantalum finds widespread use in electronics as well as super-alloys for jet engine components. USGS numbers from last year attribute 39.5% of global supply to the Democratic Republic of Congo, 27.8% to Rwanda, 8.3% to Nigeria and 6.7% to China. Apart from security of supply, concerns about conflict minerals result from troubling conditions and murky supply routes in the DRC and Rwanda.

Meanwhile Hodge wants to get back to the field. “We made a great first step in expanding on what we had,” he says. “All of these holes ended in a mineralized zone. The reason we stopped them there was to start a near-surface inferred resource. There’s carbonatite with mineralization in niobium, tantalum and phosphate open in all directions, so the results definitely call for more drilling.”

See more highlights from the Niobium Claim Group’s spring 2019 program.

U.S. critical minerals strategy includes Canada and other allies

June 5th, 2019

by Greg Klein | June 5, 2019

The country’s tariff tactics might present an image of Fortress America battling its adversaries, but a new critical minerals strategy advocates greater co-operation between the U.S. and its friends. The manifestation of Washington’s growing concern about securing resources and building supply chains, a federal report released June 4 announces six calls to action, 24 goals and 61 recommendations accompanied by timelines for accomplishment.

The U.S. includes Canada and other allies in its critical minerals strategy

Clearly, the Donald Trump administration recognizes the problem of relying on potentially unreliable sources, especially when they’re economic and geopolitical rivals: “If China or Russia were to stop exports to the United States and its allies for a prolonged period—similar to China’s rare earths embargo in 2010—an extended supply disruption could cause significant shocks throughout U.S. and foreign critical mineral supply chains.”

Rare earths provide an especially stark example of the problem, the report emphasizes. “The REE industry has experienced downsizing, business failure, and relocation in all phases of the supply chain, including mining, separation, metal reduction, alloying and downstream manufacturing of advanced technology products such as high performance rare earth permanent magnets.”

The report, A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals, follows a number of American initiatives including the formal classification of 35 critical minerals and a Secretary of Defense study released last September.

For 31 of the 35 critical minerals, the U.S. imports over 50% of its supply. For 14 of them, imports account for 100% of supply, creating “a strategic vulnerability for both our economy and our military with respect to adverse foreign government actions, natural disasters, and other events that could disrupt supply.”

If China or Russia were to stop exports to the United States and its allies for a prolonged period—similar to China’s rare earths embargo in 2010—an extended supply disruption could cause significant shocks throughout U.S. and foreign critical mineral supply chains.

Apart from finding new deposits, the report calls for specific measures to encourage R&D, new supply chains, additional and publicly available exploration data, land access and permitting, a workforce with appropriate skills and expertise, as well as international trade and co-operation.

On the latter topic, the report notes significant American reliance on Canada and Mexico for many essentials. “Working with them to develop their critical mineral deposits can help improve the security of U.S. supply.”

Washington’s agenda also calls for expanded collaboration with Canada, Australia, the EU, Japan and South Korea on a range of issues, from finding and developing resources to creating supply chains.

Although the U.S. began addressing the issue early in Trump’s administration, the report’s timing coincides with fears that another Chinese rare earths embargo could happen imminently. The U.S. relies on China directly for 80% of its imports, while much of the remainder comes from China indirectly. America’s sole REE mine, Mountain Pass in California, exports all its production to China.

That leaves Western Australian miner Lynas Corp as the only major producer outside China that is, as CEO/managing director Amanda Lacaze stated, “focused on rest-of-the-world markets, that is non-Chinese markets.” Although her company faces tremendous challenges meeting Malaysian government demands for its processing facility in that country, the government has made mildly conciliatory statements in advance of a June 28 meeting with Lynas.

Update: Following a June 20, 2019, meeting between Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the two leaders “instructed officials to develop a joint action plan on critical minerals collaboration,” according to Reuters.

Senkaku revisited

May 29th, 2019

China-U.S. trade tactics highlight rare earths peril and potential

by Greg Klein | May 29, 2019

China-U.S. trade tactics highlight rare earths peril and potential

 

They’re vital to several categories of modern essentials including military defence. But rare earths have themselves become weapons in an escalating conflict between China and the U.S. Despite Washington’s heightened awareness of its critical minerals conundrum, the U.S., like the rest of the non-Chinese world, remains almost completely dependent on its rival-turned-enemy for the rare earths that China threatens to cut off.

Among recent hints, comments and implied threats was last week’s well-publicized visit to a Chinese RE plant by President Xi Jinping and his top trade negotiator, where the leader reportedly steeled his country’s resolve with talk of an impending “Long March.” Additionally significant and non-cryptic code came in a May 29 admonition from the state-run People’s Daily: “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

China-U.S. trade tactics highlight rare earths peril and potential

Northern Minerals’ Browns Range pilot plant readies
a Western Australia project for Chinese customers.

If a full-blown trade war’s imminent, it’s not without irony. In a change of plans the U.S. has dropped rare earths from a long list of tariff-attached imports, tacitly acknowledging its dependency on China. China did the opposite, increasing its tariff from 10% to 25% on RE imports from America, a small portion of China’s supply but nevertheless an increase to the cost of its trade war weaponry.

The 17 elements comprise essential components for a host of modern necessities including phones, computers and other communications and electronic devices, electric vehicles, batteries, renewable energy and military defence.

China already mines over 70% of global supply, according to 2018 data from the U.S. Geological Survey, and that doesn’t include illegal Chinese production. The U.S. relies on China for 80% of RE compounds and metals. America imports another 11% from Estonia, France and Japan, but that stuff’s “derived from mineral concentrates and chemical intermediates produced in China and elsewhere,” the USGS added.

The risks of an all-out trade war might be demonstrated by the 2010 East China Sea conflict, where China and Japan both claim the islands of Senkaku. When a Chinese fishing boat captain felt emboldened to twice ram a Japanese naval vessel, Japan arrested him. Within days, China banned all rare earths exports to Japan, crippling its globally important but RE-dependent manufacturers. China also imposed heavy cutbacks and duties on exports to other countries.

China-U.S. trade tactics highlight rare earths peril and potential

A Greenland Minerals MOU would commit the
proposed Kvanefjeld mine’s total RE production to China.

Desperate for RE supply, some non-Chinese manufacturers relocated to China. Meanwhile Western resource companies strove to develop alternative supplies. By 2013 two new mines reached production, Lynas Corp’s Mount Weld in Western Australia and Molycorp’s Mountain Pass in California. The following year the World Trade Organization ordered China to drop its export restrictions on rare earths, as well as tungsten and molybdenum.

China complied with a vengeance, flooding the world with cheap RE supply. America’s WTO victory proved Pyrrhic as a burgeoning non-Chinese supply chain failed to compete. The most salient casualty was Mountain Pass, which suspended operations during 2015 bankruptcy proceedings.

The mine resumed production in early 2018 under new owner MP Materials. But with China’s Shenghe Rare Earth Company a minority shareholder, North America’s only RE producer exports its entire output to China.

Lynas, meanwhile, remains committed to serving non-Chinese markets through a non-Chinese supply chain. But skeptics might consider the company’s strategy precarious. Plans announced last week include a refinery in Texas that’s merely at the MOU stage, an AU$500-million financing commitment that appears inadequate to the company’s needs and an unconvincing proposal to meet a Malaysian ultimatum with alternative ideas.

Home to Lynas’ refining and separation facility, Malaysia insists the company remove over 450,000 tonnes of radioactive waste by September or face a shutdown. The country also wants future Mount Weld material rendered non-radioactive prior to arrival. (Update: On May 30 Malaysia’s prime minister said the government will likely allow Lynas’ plant to continue operation, according to Reuters.)

China-U.S. trade tactics highlight rare earths peril and potential

At a northern Quebec rare earths deposit, Commerce
Resources’ Ashram project moves towards pre-feasibility.

An AU$1.5-billion takeover bid from deep-pocketed giant Wesfarmers might offer a made-in-Australia solution. But Lynas has so far held itself aloof.

The CEO’s commitment to non-Chinese markets, however, differs from some other Australian companies. ASX-listed Northern Minerals, self-described as “the first and only meaningful producer of dysprosium outside of China,” has committed the total production of its Western Australia Browns Range project to China, apparently at the behest of minority shareholder Huatai Mining. Last August ASX-listed Greenland Minerals signed an offtake MOU with majority shareholder Shenghe Resources, which would give China the proposed Kvanefjeld mine’s total RE production.

Technology metals expert Jack Lifton emphasizes the need for non-Chinese resources and expertise: “If we don’t reconstitute a total American supply chain, if the Europeans don’t do the same, for the critical materials like rare earths, cobalt, lithium, we’re going to be out of luck,” he told ResourceClips.com.

Heightened awareness in Washington led to 35 minerals getting a formal “critical” classification, a prelude to last year’s Secretary of Defense study calling for government initiatives to encourage domestic supply chains. More recently, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators proposed legislation to prod the country into action.

That approach rankles those who prefer laissez-faire solutions. Moreover government meddling in the form of trade wars can backfire, libertarians believe. As Rick Rule said last week, “If the Chinese decided to obviate their competitive advantage with some stupid political ploy, they would find themselves with a much smaller proportion of the global market.”

Many investors seem to have agreed. Following China’s May 29 rhetoric, stock prices surged for advanced-stage RE projects.