Lawmakers Urge Biden Administration to Reduce Reliance on China for Critical Minerals

April 27, 2021 Updated: April 27, 2021

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) led a bipartisan group of lawmakers on April 26 in calling on the Biden administration to establish a “rare-earth metallurgical cooperative” to reduce the nation’s reliance on Beijing for the specialized minerals used to build electronics, military weapons, and other high-tech equipment.

In a letter (pdf) addressed to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the lawmakers, alongside 12 others, urged the establishment of the cooperative to end the nation’s dependence on China for “this critical supply chain.”

China is currently the top global producer of rare earth elements. Last year, 80 percent of rare earths imported by the United States came directly from China, which sees its dominance as leverage that can be used against the West.

Rare earths are an obscure group of 17 minerals found in applications such as precision-guided missiles, smart bombs, and military jets, and there are no known substitutes for them.

“Providing a safe space for American industry to innovate by establishing a rare earth metallurgical cooperative could change the lives of Americans by fostering the innovation of new technologies, helping the United States regain its status as a center for industrial manufacturing, and creating American jobs,” the lawmakers wrote.

“As the President seeks ways to promote American technological innovation, including in advanced clean energy technologies, establishing a rare earth metallurgical cooperative should be a top-of-mind effort for nurturing such innovation.”

Citing President Joe Biden’s Feb. 24 executive order on America’s supply chains, the lawmakers told Austin that having the president promote critical domestic supply chains, including rebuilding U.S. manufacturing capacity, is a matter of national security.

“China’s monopoly of the rare earth value chain is a significant vulnerability that threatens the ability of the United States, as well as our allies, to readily procure numerous defense systems and innovate in multiple economic sectors, including the development of advanced energy technologies,” they wrote.

Former President Donald Trump last year signed an executive order to expand and strengthen domestic mining of rare earths and other critical materials.

“The United States now imports 80 percent of its rare earth elements directly from China, with portions of the remainder indirectly sourced from China through other countries,” Trump stated in the executive order. “In the 1980s, the United States produced more of these elements than any other country in the world, but China used aggressive economic practices to strategically flood the global market for rare earth elements and displace its competitors.”

Last year, a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers also introduced proposals aimed at reducing U.S. dependence on China by providing tax incentives for the rare-earths industry.

“The global pandemic has highlighted our reliance on China to meet our demand for critical minerals that are used in products such as electric and hybrid cars, computers, and military equipment,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told The Epoch Times.

The lawmakers said in their letter that the United States must act immediately to “free our innovators from China’s parasitic industrial policies.”

“As the President seeks ways to promote American technological innovation, including in advanced clean energy technologies, establishing a rare earth metallurgical cooperative should be a top-of-mind effort for nurturing such innovation,” they wrote.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request from The Epoch Times for comment.