Monday 12th November 2018

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘u.s.’

Brazilian front-runner makes niobium nationalism an election issue

October 25th, 2018

by Greg Klein | October 25, 2018

Whether he’s just another politician on the wrong side of the culture wars or a dangerous demagogue as portrayed by those claiming the correct side, Jair Bolsonaro’s considered the top contender in Brazil’s October 28 presidential vote. One of his less controversial policies involves resource nationalism, specifically regarding niobium.

Brazilian front-runner makes niobium nationalism an election issue

Brandishing a chunk of the stuff in a 2016 YouTube presentation,
Jair Bolsonaro calls on Brazil to enhance a vertically integrated
niobium supply chain to support economic independence.

Bolsonaro calls for Brazil, by far the world’s top producer of the critical metal, to enhance a vertically integrated supply chain for maximum economic gain, according to Reuters. He also opposes a Chinese company mining his country’s reserves, the news agency adds.

Last year Brazil provided 89% of world niobium supply, with Canada ranking second at less than 10%, U.S. Geological Survey data shows. Used in steels and superalloys, niobium’s a vital element to jet engine components, rocket sub-assemblies, and heat-resisting and combustion equipment, the USGS adds. Niobium comprises one of 35 critical elements in an American list drafted last February and confirmed in May.

Most Brazilian supply comes from the Araxa mine complex owned by Companhia Brasileira de Metalurgia e Mineração. But CBMM’s near-monopoly diminished in 2016, when China Molybdenum Co Ltd got Brazil’s Boa Vista niobium complex in a US$1.5-billion purchase from Anglo American. That made China Molybdenum the world’s second-biggest niobium producer, thanks to Brazilian resources and much to Bolsonaro’s ire.

In Reuters’ account of a TV interview last August, he said, “It’s something only we have, we should invest in technology and research to use this mineral. Instead we sell and deliver the mine to them.”

The Chinese are not buying in Brazil. They are buying Brazil.—Jair Bolsonaro

As the Middle Kingdom acquires energy infrastructure as well as resources across Brazil, the South China Morning Post quotes a common Bolsonaro refrain: “The Chinese are not buying in Brazil. They are buying Brazil.”

Chinese diplomats have twice met with Bolsonaro’s aides, hoping to smooth relations with the likely leader, the SCMP states. Requests to meet the candidate himself have so far been spurned.

An open letter signed by Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and several others says Bolsonaro “threatens the world, not just Brazil’s fledgling democracy.”

But the country might face other threats as well. Government data released in August shows 63,880 murders last year, a 3% increase over 2016 and a rate of 175 murders per day.

The new colonialists

October 19th, 2018

China’s overseas expansion raises concerns of influence and arrogance

by Greg Klein

The country boosts its domestic industries through state-sanctioned dumping along with lax environmental, health and safety standards. Aggressive overseas expansion provides money and infrastructure to struggling nations in return for resources and acquiescence. Espionage, counterfeit exports, currency manipulation, economic warfare, intellectual theft—“particularly the systematic theft of U.S. weapons systems”—that’s all part of China’s goal to gain “veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic and security decisions,” according to a recent U.S. study ordered by President Donald Trump.

So it seems a bit anti-climactic to accuse the Red Dragon of arrogance.

But could that become China’s undoing, especially when the arrogance reflects racism? Examples from Kenya reveal a steady stream of racially charged incidents. Among the most recent was ongoing racist abuse from the manager of a Chinese-owned assembly plant. A Chinese company running a much bigger Kenyan operation, the Standard Gauge Railway, faces accusations of practising racial preferences and segregation. Further accounts relay instances of demeaning treatment, even assaults, on African workers in their own countries by Chinese bosses.

China’s overseas expansion brings allegations of influence and arrogance

That might be more a side effect than part of the official agenda, which is alarming in itself. According to Globe and Mail Africa correspondent Geoffrey York, Chinese influence “is sharply increasing in African media, academia, politics and diplomacy.” Earlier this month he reported that a South African newspaper chain backed by Chinese investors fired a columnist who denounced their country’s treatment of Muslims.

“In Zambia, heavily dependent on Chinese loans, a prominent Kenyan scholar was prevented from entering the country to deliver a speech critical of China. In Namibia, a Chinese diplomat publicly advised the country’s president to use pro-China wording in a coming speech. And a scholar at a South African university was told that he would not receive a visa to enter China until his classroom lectures contain more praise for Beijing.”

York pointed to “the huge number of African leaders who flock to the summit of China’s main African organization, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC),” an annual conference featuring announcements of Chinese financial aid. At last month’s event, President Xi Jinping promised grants, loans and investments totalling $60 billion, equaling an amount pledged three years earlier.

China’s massive African infrastructure projects, built by Chinese companies that often enjoy Chinese government financial support, include railways and hydro-electric power. But Chinese interests also get their hands on Africa’s mineral resources as well as oil and gas reserves, not to mention new markets for Chinese exports. Chinese loans have been criticized for overwhelming African countries with debt.

In the values that it promotes, in the manner that it operates and in the impact that it has on African countries, FOCAC refutes the view that a new colonialism is taking hold in Africa, as our detractors would have us believe.—South African
President Cyril Ramaphosa

Then there’s the political influence. The spectacle of African leaders singing China’s praises has provoked cynicism that South African President and FOCAC co-chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa tried to dispel: “In the values that it promotes, in the manner that it operates and in the impact that it has on African countries, FOCAC refutes the view that a new colonialism is taking hold in Africa, as our detractors would have us believe.”

Those remarks might alternately challenge or support allegations of sycophancy. But York notes China’s success in convincing African countries to drop their support for Taiwan, promoting Chinese language and culture, increasing media ownership with attendant interference, and—laughably, considering the communist state’s journalistic standards—providing “‘training’ for 1,000 African media professionals annually.”

Such are the challenges faced by the developing world. And others too.

From Australia come additional examples. “The hubris of the Chinese Communist Party has reached a great and giddy high,” the Sidney Morning Herald declared last month. International editor Peter Hartcher recounted a meeting between Chinese finance minister Lou Jiwei and Australian treasurer Joe Hockey in which Lou lit a cigarette without asking permission, then badgered the Aussie with big talk that included offers to take over Rio Tinto, buy 15% of the top 200 ASX-listed companies or grab multi-billion-dollar positions in Australian banks.

Hartcher mentioned another incident a few years ago, when “a Chinese minister walked into the Parliament House office of an Australian Liberal Party minister in the course of a negotiation.

“The visitor sat on the sofa, reclined with his hands locked behind his head, and put his feet up on the coffee table. He crossed his ankles casually, the soles of his shoes pointed towards his Australian host. A mere detail, yes, but a telling one. It infuriated the Australian, who was still steaming as he recounted the story years later.”

Then there’s the threats. In a Sydney meeting last year, Hartcher writes, Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten and two of his key people heard Chinese Communist Party official Meng Jianzhu demand their party support an extradition treaty. They objected, largely due to China’s death penalty.

“To get his way, Meng threatened to mobilize the Chinese diaspora living in Australia to vote against the Labor party. The Labor leaders were unbowed and unimpressed. ‘We cannot let these bastards push us around,’ one later remarked to a colleague. Labor continued to oppose the extradition treaty.”

Score one for Down Under determination. Hartcher warns that China could meet its comeuppance once the country’s economic growth stops, possibly in a decade or so. Still, that gives the Middle Kingdom considerable time to expand its influence in acquiescent countries, which need not be limited to the developing world.

Like Canada, for example. Do our politicians match Australian Labor’s resolve? Do our media match the Sidney Morning Herald’s candour? Or would the example of HD Mining International, which planned to staff underground operations at a British Columbia mine exclusively with Chinese workers, typify Canada’s response?

Depending on the enemy

October 10th, 2018

The U.S. calls for new supply strategies to meet economic and defence risks

by Greg Klein

The goal might be summed up by a new slogan: Make America Self-Reliant Again. Or, with a tad less concision: Let’s Stop Relying on an Economic Rival that’s a Potential Military Threat for the Stuff We Need to Compete with an Economic Rival that’s a Potential Military Threat.

A newly released study from the U.S. Secretary of Defense illustrates that absurd dilemma. The dependency runs the gamut from sourcing raw materials to refining them, manufacturing key components, developing R&D, training workers, even setting prices. As the report says, “The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers. It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.”

The U.S. calls for new supply chain strategies to meet economic and defence risks

But Russia merits little mention in the 146-page document. China comes up again and again as the pre-eminent economic and military threat with a long-term hegemonic strategy.

That strategy’s been very successful, leaving the U.S. sorely unprepared for the resulting risks. Ordered by President Donald Trump in July 2017, the report urges a government-wide program to address the entire range of supply chain challenges.

The 2010 Senkaku incident, dramatic as it was, can be seen as a mere microcosm of a much bigger threat.

“China’s domination of the rare earth element market illustrates the potentially dangerous interaction between Chinese economic aggression guided by its strategic industrial policies and vulnerabilities and gaps in America’s manufacturing and defense industrial base,” the report warns. “China has strategically flooded the global market with rare earths at subsidized prices, driven out competitors, and deterred new market entrants. When China needs to flex its soft power muscles by embargoing rare earths, it does not hesitate, as Japan learned in a 2010 maritime dispute.”

It was a lesson learned by other countries too. The report describes rare earths as “critical elements used across many of the major weapons systems the U.S. relies on for national security, including lasers, radar, sonar, night vision systems, missile guidance, jet engines, and even alloys for armored vehicles.”

Rare earths figure prominently in the U.S. list of 35 critical minerals drafted last February and confirmed in May. American dependency was further highlighted when the country dropped rare earths from a revised list of tariffs on Chinese imports announced in September.

China’s soft power hardball has targeted other American allies as well, waging “aggressive economic warfare” against South Korea after the country installed an American air defence system. Other examples of “economic coercion” include “a ban on Philippine bananas over territorial disputes in the South China Sea; the aforementioned restriction of rare earth exports to Japan following the Senkaku Islands dispute in 2010; persistent economic intimidation against Taiwan; and the recent ceding of a Sri Lankan port.”

China can play nice too. But at a price. The country invests heavily in developing countries, often building infrastructure “in exchange for an encumbrance on their natural resources and access to their markets.”

As for Chinese electronics exports, they “lack the level of scrutiny placed on U.S. manufacturers, driving lower yields and higher rates of failures in downstream production, and raising the risk of ‘Trojan’ chips and viruses infiltrating U.S. defense systems.”

Technological expertise becomes a strategic weapon too. “As part of its industrial policy aggression, China has forced many American companies to offshore their R&D in exchange for access to the Chinese market.”

With an advanced-stage rare earths project in northern Quebec as well as advanced-stage tantalum-niobium in southern British Columbia, Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE president Chris Grove keeps tabs on Canada’s neighbour. “People in Washington tell me the anxiety level on these issues has never been higher,” he notes.

Here’s the world’s biggest military and they’re saying, ‘We need Chinese stuff to make it all work?’ That’s really for most Americans an absolutely untenable and unbelievable position of weakness.—Chris Grove,
president of Commerce Resources

“Apart from the trade imbalance between the U.S. and China, there’s the vulnerability of the U.S. military. Here’s the world’s biggest military and they’re saying, ‘We need Chinese stuff to make it all work?’ That’s really for most Americans an absolutely untenable and unbelievable position of weakness.”

Sources in Washington encouraged Grove to apply for a research grant from the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency. If successful, the application would bring up to $3 million to further metallurgical progress on his company’s Ashram rare earths project, advancing a potential source in a stable and allied country.

That would complement one of the report’s key recommendations, to “diversify away from complete dependency on sources of supply in politically unstable countries who may cut off U.S. access; diversification strategies may include re-engineering, expanded use of the National Defense Stockpile program, or qualification of new suppliers.”

Other recommendations include creating an industrial policy that supports national security, working with allies and partners on industrial development, expanding industrial investment, addressing manufacturing and industrial risk within the energy and nuclear sectors, encouraging home-grown scientific expertise and occupational skills, and exploring next generation technology for future threats.

In ordering the study, Trump stated the loss of key companies, over 60,000 American factories and almost five million manufacturing jobs since 2000 “threatens to undermine the capacity and capabilities of United States manufacturers to meet national defense requirements and raises concerns about the health of the manufacturing and defense industrial base.”

WGC says gold poised to bounce back; GATA asks what’s going on

August 23rd, 2018

by Greg Klein | August 23, 2018

Even with prices floundering around 20-month lows, the World Gold Council sees technical and fundamental reasons for optimism. But a sustained recovery would depend on consumers and long-term investors, the industry organization stressed.

WGC says gold poised to bounce back; GATA asks what’s going on

A strong U.S. dollar helped push gold below $1,200 this month for the first time since early 2017. Yet given past performance, the “increasingly short” futures positions bode well for a sharp rally, the WGC stated. Other positive factors include larger consumer and investor gold markets in emerging countries, where demand in those two areas has doubled over the last 20 years. Central banks in emerging markets have also been expanding their holdings, now accounting for about 500 tonnes of annual demand.

Russia bought more gold in July than any other month since November, Bloomberg reported. Citing IMF data, the news agency said the country bolstered its reserves by 26.1 tonnes in July, for a total of 2,170 tonnes that the central bank values at $77.4 billion. Last spring Russian First Deputy Governor Dmitry Tulin called gold “a 100% guarantee from legal and political risks,” Bloomberg added.

Discussing possible catalysts for a gold rally, the WGC included expansion or long-term application of trade sanctions, higher inflation resulting from nationalist economic policies, and European risks ranging from Brexit to the continent’s exposure to emerging market debt. Although growing strength in the U.S. dollar might continue to keep gold down, the organization said geopolitical risks to the global economy might overcome the dollar’s effects.

As usual, a different perspective came from the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee. Earlier this month GATA’s Robert Lambourne questioned recent activities by the Bank for International Settlements. The gold broker for most central banks increased its use of gold swaps and gold derivatives by about 17% in July. “The bank’s total estimated exposure as of July 31 was about 485 tonnes of gold versus about 413 tonnes as of June 30,” he stated.

The increase came as there increasingly appeared to be a correlation between the gold price and the valuation of the Chinese yuan, both of which fell substantially during the month. The BIS refuses to explain what it is doing in the gold market and for whom, engendering suspicion that it is helping one or more of its members to manipulate the currency markets through deception.

To place the bank’s use of gold swaps in context, its current exposure of 485 tonnes is higher than the gold reserves of all but 10 countries.

Speaking with Kitco News, Avi Gilburt of ElliottWaveTrader.net expressed caution about a possible rally. “Until there is clear bullish direction in the market, investors who want to trade gold should stick with GLD,” he emphasized.

Gold fell from this year’s high of $1,357.70 in January to $1,173.78 last week, before moving up to a press time price of $1,185.03.

Commerce Resources’ rare earths metallurgy moves forward amid heightened supply concerns

August 20th, 2018

by Greg Klein | August 20, 2018

In an update on tests conducted by l’Université Laval, Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE reports another stage of progress with completion of crushing, grinding and large-scale flotation. About 1.5 tonnes of material were processed from the company’s Ashram deposit in northern Quebec, now moving towards pre-feasibility. With results meeting expectations, the project advances to a pilot-level hydrometallurgical component.

Commerce Resources’ rare earths metallurgy moves forward amid heightened concern for RE supply

Last month Commerce announced an important milestone in producing Ashram’s first concentrate of mixed rare earth oxides, showing the deposit’s amenability to different flowsheet approaches.

Laval’s next stage will use flotation concentrate to produce a purified solution containing rare earth elements, which will then be separated into light, medium and heavy rare earths. At the same time, the solution composition will be used to assess a solvent extraction separation pilot circuit using a software model simulator developed by the university. Results will allow further assessment of the economics of separating Ashram’s REEs into individual rare earth oxides.

Funding for the project comes through a $365,000 grant from Quebec’s ministère de l’Économie, de la Science et de l’Innovation.

As work continues, geopolitical developments bring increasing concern about rare earths supply. Trade hostilities between the U.S. and China have led to speculation about how the latter country, by far the world’s biggest rare earths producer, will use its resources as a weapon.

This year the U.S. included rare earths in a list of 35 minerals deemed essential to the country’s economy and defence, as part of a strategy to encourage production of critical minerals at home and among allied countries.

The list also includes tantalum and niobium, which Commerce has delineated at its advanced-stage Blue River project in east-central British Columbia. Back in Quebec, a few kilometres from Ashram, the company also holds an early-stage high-grade niobium project that’s conditionally subject to a 75% earn-in by Saville Resources TSXV:SRE.

Read more about Commerce Resources.

Senkaku II

July 23rd, 2018

How might a U.S.-China trade war affect rare earths?

 

At first glance, the rare earths aspect of the U.S.-China tariffs tussle looks like small change—a proposed 10% duty on American RE imports that might cause a smallish markup on some manufactured goods and wouldn’t necessarily apply to defence uses. But all that’s part of a much bigger battle that will probably target $250 billion of Chinese exports to the U.S. China used an incomparably smaller incident in 2010 to rationalize a ruthless sequence of rare earths trade machinations. Could something like that happen again, this time with different results?

How might a U.S.-China trade war affect rare earths?

Hostilities began earlier this month as the U.S. imposed a 25% tariff on approximately $34 billion worth of Chinese imports, with levies on another $16 billion likely to come. China retaliated with tariffs on equal amounts of American imports.

The U.S. re-retaliated with a threatened 10% on an additional $200 billion of Chinese imports in a process that would follow public consultation. The additional list includes rare earth metals along with yttrium and scandium, which are often considered REs but rate distinct categories in this case.

Last year the U.S. imported $150 million worth of 15 RE metals and compounds, up from $118 million the previous year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Some 78% came directly from China, with much of the rest derived from Chinese-produced concentrates. Yttrium shows a similar story, with 71% coming directly from China and nearly all the rest from Chinese concentrates. Although lacking hard numbers for scandium, the USGS states that too comes mostly from China.

Globally, China produced over 80% of world RE supply last year, but with less than 37% of the planet’s reserves.

Rare earths plus scandium comprise two of 35 mineral categories pronounced critical to the American economy and defence by Washington last May, after Donald Trump called for a “federal strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals.” Now the same administration wants to slap those commodities with a 10% price hike.

And at risk of provoking powerful Chinese retaliation.

Rare earths watchers will remember the 2010 confrontation around the disputed South China Sea islands of Senkaku. The Japanese navy arrested a Chinese fishing crew captain who had twice rammed his boat against the military vessel. 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.

While some Western manufacturers relocated to China, Western resource companies strove to develop alternative supplies. Lynas Corp’s Mount Veld project in Western Australia and Molycorp’s Mountain Pass project in California both reached production in 2013. The following year the U.S. claimed victory as 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 went on care and maintenance in 2015.

So does China have more rare earths machinations in mind, this time responding not to a minor territorial dispute but tariffs affecting $250 billion of Chinese exports?

Maybe, but different circumstances might bring a different outcome. Since the Senkaku-induced RE crisis, advanced-stage projects have developed potential mines outside China. Work has progressed on non-Chinese supply chains, working to eliminate that country’s near-monopoly on processing expertise. Most recently, the U.S. has begun an official critical minerals policy to encourage development of supplies and supply chains in domestic and allied sources.

Of course any future scenario remains speculative. But this time the West might be better prepared for China’s tactics. Any new export restrictions might spur development of the deposits that now exist outside China. Any Chinese attempts to dump cheap supply could face further, far more punishing tariffs. While some other industries might suffer in the shorter term, Western resource companies might welcome Senkaku II.

Some Sprott takeaways

July 20th, 2018

Among them, Rick Rule foresees “the absolute heyday of prospect generators”

by Greg Klein

Miners have suddenly become “lean and mean” but not in a good way, according to Rick Rule. Twenty years of under-investment, an over-correction to a previous binge of M&A “insanity,” have left companies with declining resources. “This can’t continue,” the career contrarian contended. “Every day you mine, you shrink.” But the people who build and run mines prefer to outsource exploration. As a result, he says, “we are coming into the absolute heyday of prospect generators.”

Rick Rule foresees “the absolute heyday of prospect generators”

Rule presented his remarks at the Sprott Natural Resource Symposium, held in Vancouver this year from July 17 to 20 for an audience of gold bugs and resource investors. The two strategies can often be employed by the same individuals, showing a stark contrast between hedging against uncertainty and searching for opportunity. And opportunities are there to be had, Rule maintained. While a number of key commodities have gained in price, equities remain low, creating a more attractive ratio of price to value.

Looking at gold discoveries, Brent Cook sees a decline since 1980, with yearly mine production now about three times the annual ounces found in the ground. The pipeline of up-and-coming copper mines currently has the fewest projects of this century. Zinc discoveries peaked in 2016, then fell steeply. With majors showing heightened interest in explorers, he said, “this is a fantastic time to invest in juniors—but be careful.”

It’s very hard to know where the bottom of the market is until you come out of it.—Sean Roosen

Also emphasizing the declining success rate of exploration, Osisko Gold Royalties CEO Sean Roosen agreed that peak gold has arrived. That’s manifested not only in the relative lack of discoveries but the shortened average mine life of current operations. As for the state of equities, “it’s very hard to know where the bottom of the market is until you come out of it.”

Both sides of the gold bug/resource investor dichotomy found support in a slogan displayed by Byron King: “If you can’t save the world, go find some gold.” And from his perspective saving the world, the Western parts anyway, seems beyond hope. An editor with Agora Financial and Jim Rickards’ Gold Speculator, he focused largely on the U.S., which he said faces domestic conditions and foreign rivalry that put all aspects of American power at risk. The country barely resembles its post-WWII self when “we had the money, we had the gold and we had the friggin’ bomb.”

The U.S. and its allies have since squandered their prominence in banking, currencies, capital markets, manufacturing, technology, military prowess and space travel.

We have lost academia to a different form of thought.—Byron King

Where the West outperforms others, maybe, is in the flakiness of its institutions. Canadian and American universities lead the way: “We have lost academia to a different form of thought.”

In a momentous development that policymakers deny, he said, Russia has surpassed the U.S. in the aerospace and high-tech weapons industries. “Incredibly stupid people in Washington D.C.” believe against all evidence “that we can win a war with Russia.”

Mercifully, that kind of war might not happen. But another kind would show no mercy. Relaying Rickards’ ideas, King said real wars have become too expensive and dangerous to fight. So major powers instead sabotage their enemies’ currencies. As China and Russia continue to accumulate gold, the two could team up to defeat the West.

References to stupidity in high office recurred during the conference. Rule reminded the audience of Justin Trudeau’s statement that “the budget will balance itself” and Barack Obama’s notion that U.S. debt doesn’t matter because Americans owe the money to themselves.

Trey Reik of Sprott USA pegged that country’s federal debt at $20 trillion and U.S. total debt at $68 trillion. The country needs another $2.8 trillion in debt just to service the current amount, he added. With such unsustainable levels, he sees a tsunami of defaults coming.

One of the reasons I own gold is the future is much too interesting to be predictable.—James Grant

When the consequences of debt and the state of the economy become known, a gold bull market will return, argued James Grant. The editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer and Ron Paul’s choice to chair the Fed called interest rates “the most important aspect of capitalism…. Try to imagine a world without them. We do live in this world.” Today’s negative sovereign debt yields are unprecedented in history, he stated.

In a twist on the Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times,” Grant said: “One of the reasons I own gold is the future is much too interesting to be predictable.”

Throughout the conference speakers agreed, disagreed and overlapped in their perspectives. But no doubt everyone concurred with an insight elegantly expressed by Eric Fry of the Oxford Club: “It’s better to have more money than less money.”

The Sprott Natural Resource Symposium returns to Vancouver in July 2019.

Commerce Resources president Chris Grove discusses his company’s Canadian rare earths and tantalum-niobium projects as the U.S. develops a strategy to secure supply

June 22nd, 2018

…Read more

Infographic: The history of North American co-operation on aluminum and steel

May 23rd, 2018

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist

As the global rhetoric around trade heats up, aluminum and steel are two metals that have been unexpectedly thrust into the international spotlight.

Both metals are getting considerable attention as journalists and pundits analyze how tariffs may impact international markets and trade relations. But in that coverage so far, one thing that may have been missed is the interesting history and context of these metals, especially within the framework of trade in North America.

Aluminum and steel in North America

This infographic tells the story of an ongoing North American partnership in these goods, and how this co-operation even helped U.S. and Canadian efforts in World War II, as well as addressing other issues of national security.

 

The history of North American co-operation on aluminum and steel

 

Aluminum and steel are metals that are not only essential for industry to thrive, but they are also needed to build infrastructure and ensure national security.

Because of the importance of these metals, countries in North America have been co-operating for many decades to guarantee the best possible supply chains for both aluminum and steel.

The history: Aluminum and steel

Here are some of the major events that involve the two metals, from the perspective of North American trade and co-operation.

1899
The Pittsburgh Reduction Company, later the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), begins construction of a power plant and aluminum smelter in Shawinigan Falls, Quebec.

1901
The company produces the first aluminum ever on Canadian soil.

1902
This Canadian division is renamed the Northern Aluminum Company

New uses and WWI

1903
The Wright brothers use aluminum in their first plane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

1908
The first Model T rolls off the assembly line, and steel is a primary component.

1910
The U.S. and Canadian steel industries surround the Great Lakes region. At this point the U.S. produces more steel than any other country in the world.

1913
The U.S. passes the Underwood Tariff, a general reduction in tariff rates that affected Canadian exporters. Zero or near-zero tariffs were introduced for steel. (The Canadian Encylopedia)

1914
At this point, 80% of American-made cars had aluminum crank and gear cases.

World War I
The Great War breaks out. It’s the first ever “modern war” and metals become strategically important in a way like never before. For the first three years, the U.S. helps the Allies—including Canada, which is already at war—by providing supplies.

Steel was crucial for ships, railways, shells, submarines and airplanes. Meanwhile, aluminum was used in explosives, ammunition and machine guns. The Liberty V12 engine, which powered Allied planes, was one-third aluminum.

During this stretch, America produced three times as much steel as Germany and Austria. By the end of the war, military usage of aluminum is sucking up 90% of all North American production.

Inter-war period

1919
After the war, the interruption of European aluminum shipments to North America drives up Northern Aluminum sales to the United States. In 1919, U.S. aluminum imports from Northern Aluminum total 5,643 tons, while all European producers add up to 2,360 tons.

1925
After aluminum gains post-war acceptance from consumers, Alcoa uses this new momentum to strike a deal to build one of the world’s greatest aluminum complexes in Quebec on the Saguenay River.

These facilities become the base for Northern Aluminum, which changes its name to the Aluminum Company of Canada (Alcan). By 1927, the area includes a new company town (Arvida), a 27,000-ton smelter and a hydro power plant. This complex would eventually become the world’s largest aluminum production site for WWII.

1929
The Roaring Twenties saw consumer culture take off, with auto and appliance sales escalating. Steel and aluminum demand continues to soar.

World War II

1940
Canada and the U.S. establish the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, still in operation today. Near the same time, the Canadian-American defence industrial alliance, known as the Defence Production Sharing Program, is also established.

1941
Canada and the U.S. agree to co-ordinate production of war materials to reduce duplication, and to allow each country to specialize, with The Hyde Park Declaration of 1941.

The record proves that in peaceful commerce the combined efforts of our countries can produce outstanding results. Our trade with each other is far greater than that of any other two nations on earth.—Harry Truman,
33rd U.S. president, 1947

The principles of this declaration recognize North America as a single, integrated defence industrial base.

1942
Canada builds the Bagotville airbase to protect the aluminum complex and hydro plants of the Saguenay region, which were crucial in supplying American and Canadian forces. A Hawker Hurricane squadron is permanently stationed to protect the area.

1945
The Saguenay facilities were so prolific that Canada supplied 40% of the Allies’ total aluminum production.

Cold War and North American integration

1952
The U.S. focuses on Canadian resources after the President’s Materials Policy Commission warns of future shortages of various metals, which could make the U.S. dependent on insecure foreign sources during times of conflict.

1956
Canada and the U.S. sign the Defence Production Sharing Agreement, which aims to maintain a balance in trade for defence products. At this point, Canada relies on the U.S. for military technology—and the U.S. relies on Canada for important military inputs.

1959
The St. Lawrence Seaway opens, providing ocean-going vessels access to Canadian and U.S. ports on the Great Lakes. This facilitates the shipping of iron ore, steel and aluminum.

1965
The Canada-U.S. Auto Pact allows for the integration of the Canadian and U.S. auto industries in a shared North American market. This paves the way for iron ore, steel and aluminum trade.

1989
The U.S. and Canada sign a free trade agreement, which eventually gets rolled into NAFTA in 1994.

Modern aluminum and steel trade

2007
U.S. Steel buys the Steel Company of Canada (Stelco) for $1.9 billion.

Today
The U.S. and Canada are each other’s best international customer for a variety of goods—including steel and aluminum.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

Commerce Resources sees additional opportunity in U.S. critical minerals strategy

May 22nd, 2018

by Greg Klein | May 22, 2018

Taking another step to enhance national security, the U.S. Department of the Interior has formally accepted a draft list of 35 minerals deemed critical to the American economy and defence. Resulting from a presidential order to reduce reliance on essential raw materials from potentially unreliable or unfriendly sources, the list received 453 public comments after being compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey. The agenda now moves to the strategy stage, with a final report expected by August on approaches to cut dependence. Topics will include:

Commerce Resources sees additional opportunity in U.S. critical minerals strategy

  • the status of recycling technologies

  • alternatives to critical minerals

  • options for accessing critical minerals from allies and partners

  • a plan to improve geological mapping in the U.S.

  • recommendations to streamline lease permitting and review processes

  • ways to increase discovery, production and domestic refining of critical minerals

The Americans’ heightened interest in sourcing these necessities from allies and partners brings to mind companies like Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE, which has two advanced-stage Canadian properties hosting four critical minerals. At the company’s northern Quebec Eldor property, Commerce undertakes pre-feasibility studies on the Ashram deposit, hosting a rare earths resource with fluorspar byproduct potential. In central British Columbia, the company holds the Blue River tantalum-niobium deposit. Those two metals are also the subject of early-stage exploration on Eldor, a few kilometres from Ashram.

“Ultimately, what’s obvious from this critical minerals list is the U.S. government’s interest in cutting the Chinese umbilical cord,” points out company president Chris Grove. “A commonality that we at Commerce keep hearing is anxiety from companies in all of the major markets outside China—Japan, Korea, Germany, Austria, the U.S., France—companies in all these countries are concerned about future supplies of these commodities and they don’t want to have to depend on them from China. Essentially, the theme of this critical commodities list is getting it from somewhere besides China.”

And although China looms large, it’s not the only source of dubious reliability.

“There’s a huge increase in risk once you step outside North America. With our locations, we definitely benefit from that negation of jurisdictional risk.”

Mineralogy reduces another category of risk. “Looking at the specifics of our projects, both Ashram and Blue River are processed very positively with standard techniques,” Grove adds. “We’re not re-creating the wheel here, we’re not re-splitting the atom. Well-understood metallurgical processes work on both of our projects.

“Meanwhile we have ongoing optimization work on Ashram and also on the flowsheet for Blue River and there will be more data released in a timely manner on these potential successes.”

The company has early-stage prospects too, emphasized by especially high-grade niobium, along with tantalum, on the Miranna claims. Located on the same Eldor property hosting Ashram, the project has a 43-101 technical report now nearing completion. Subject to exchange approval, Miranna would then come under a 75% earn-in by Saville Resources TSXV:SRE.

USGS data accentuates American reliance on foreign sources for Commerce’s four minerals. Data from 2013 to 2016 shows the U.S. imported 78% of its rare earths from China, with much of the other 22% originating in Chinese-produced concentrates. China produced only 8% of American fluorspar imports, but Mexico supplied 71%. U.S. imports of tantalum minerals came 40% from Brazil and 26% from Rwanda, while America’s tantalum metal originated 23% in China and 12% in Kazakhstan. An overwhelming 72% of niobium, a crucial component to military, infrastructure and other uses, came from Brazil—most of it from a single company.

Read more about Commerce Resources here and here.