Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Ties rare-earth elements into his national security strategy.

Good news for people who like bad news: The U.S. of A. is entirely reliant on China for specific minerals used to power everything from wind turbines to smartphones!

That’s one of the findings of an updated report from the U.S. Geological Survey, headed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. That came out on Tuesday, and Wednesday President Trump – while Congressional Republicans were passing a tax cut for him to enact – has signed an executive order “instructing his deputies to devise ‘a strategy to reduce the Nation’s reliance on critical minerals’ that are largely imported.”

I’m less interested in the Trump administration’s plan to sell new mining rights on federal parkland than I am in how this executive order fits into the national security strategy announced by the president earlier this week.

That strategy labeled China (and Russia) as the competition – and this report and accompanying order are part of Trump’s new effort to counter aggressive Chinese trade policy.

Will it work?

China has basically cornered the market on rare earths – it identified them as important early and invested billions into developing an industry around them (with little in the way of labor and environmental standards to slow it down) – and was willing to restrict access to them when beef started cooking with another country. This prompted a WTO trade complaint by the Obama administration a few years back, which it won. Heck, 60 Minutes even did a segment on it.

This is a big deal. Rare-earth elements go into a lot of military applications (there’s that “national security strategy” angle) and it’s unwise to allow a critical material (and its production) to be completely offshore. It’s basically a chokepoint.

Plus: No matter how you cut it, expanding domestic production is a much better idea than backing a plan – presented by the Education secretary’s brother – to privatize American military operations in Afghanistan and loot that country’s mineral wealth.