A bipartisan bill to be introduced in the US Senate would force defense contractors to stop buying rare earths from china by 2026 and use the Pentagon to create a permanent stockpile of strategic minerals.
The bill, sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, and Mark Kelly, a Democrat from Arizona, is expected to be introduced on Friday, Reuters news agency reported. This is the latest in a series of U.S. laws aimed at thwarting Almost total control of China on the sector.
It mainly uses the Purchase of billions of dollars by the Pentagon of fighter jets, missiles and other weapons as leverage to force contractors to stop relying on China and, by extension, support the revival of US production of rare earths.
Rare earths are a group of 17 metals which, after processing, are used to make magnets found in electric vehicles, weaponry and electronics. While the United States established the industry during World War II and American military scientists developed the most widely used type of rare-earth magnet, China slowly grew to control almost all industry over the past 30 years.
The United States only has a rare earth mine and does not have the ability to process rare earth ores. The United States depends on China for about 80% of its rare earth imports.
In December, China consolidated several of its main producers to create a juggernaut that will strengthen its control over the global industry it has dominated for decades.
The new entity, China Rare-Earths Group, accelerate mine development in the south of the country, state media reported.
“Ending America’s reliance on China for rare earth mining and processing is critical to strengthening the defense and technology sectors in the United States,” Cotton told Reuters.
The senator, who sits on the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, described The evolution of China in the world leader in rare earths as “simply a political choice made by the United States”, adding that he hoped new policies would loosen Beijing’s grip.
In the past, the United States has worked with other countries at the World Trade Organization to try to coerce China export more rare earths in the midst of a global shortage.
Known as the Restoring Essential Energy and Security Holdings Onshore for Rare Earths Act of 2022, the bill would codify and make permanent the Pentagon’s continued storage of materials. China temporarily blocked rare earth exports in Japan in 2010 and made vague threats that he might do the same in the United States.
However, to constitute this reserve, the The Pentagon is getting supplies partly from China, a paradox that Senate staffers hope to alleviate over time.
Rare earths the production process can be very polluting, part of the reason it became unpopular in the United States. Ongoing research is trying to make the process cleaner.
Cotton said he had spoken to various US executive agencies about the bill, but declined to say whether he had spoken with President Joe Biden or the White House.
“This is an area where Congress will lead, because many members have been preoccupied with this very topic, regardless of party,” he said.
The bill, which sponsors expect will become part of Pentagon funding legislation later this year, offers no direct support for the nascent U.S. rare earth sector.
Instead, it requires Pentagon contractors to stop using Chinese rare earths within four years, allowing waivers only in rare situations. Defense contractors would be required to immediately say where they source their minerals.
These requirements “should further encourage [rare-earths] development in our country,” Cotton said.
Over the past two years, the Pentagon has awarded grants to companies trying to resume rare earth processing and magnet production in the United States, including MP Materials Corp, Australian Lynas Rare Earth Ltd, TDA Magnetics Inc and Urban Mining Co.
Kelly, a former astronaut and a member of the Senate Armed Services and Energy Committees, said the bill would “strengthen America’s position as a global technology leader by reducing our nation’s dependence on opponents like China for rare earth elements”.
Bill only applies to weapons, not other equipment The US Army buys.
In addition, the U.S. Trade Representative would be required to investigate whether China is distorting the rare earths market and to recommend whether trade sanctions are necessary.
When asked if such a move could be seen as antagonistic by Beijing, Cotton said, “I don’t think the response to Chinese aggression or Chinese threats is to continue to subject ourselves to Chinese threats.”