Trump moves to expand rare earths mining, cites China threat

(Bloomberg) – US President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at expanding domestic production of rare-earth minerals that are vital to many critical manufacturing sectors, in an effort to reduce dependence on China.

The order, which declares a national emergency in the mining industry, directs the Interior Department to explore using the Defense Production Act to hasten the development of mines. The administration has previously used the law to accelerate production of medical supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.

The president’s actions are a direct consequence of China’s dominance of the sector for decades, said Gavin Wendt, a senior resource analyst at MineLife Pty. Previously, “the West was happy to be supplied with cheap rare earths from China, with China bearing the environmental consequences,” he said.

Critical minerals have been a focus in the U.S. as China accounted for 80% of total U.S. imports of rare-earth compounds and metals last year. Last year, the White House ordered the Defense Department to spur the production of rare-earth magnets that go inside everything from electric vehicles to wind turbines to missile-guided systems, amid concerns that China could restrict exports of the products amid heightened trade tensions.