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Imports a Key Focus of New Federal Strategy on Critical Minerals

Friday, December 22, 2017
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

Reducing imports is among the primary objectives of a Dec. 20 executive order that seeks to ease U.S. vulnerabilities to the supply of critical minerals. The EO also aims to boost domestic production of these minerals as well as the search for viable alternatives.

The EO states that the U.S. is heavily reliant on imports of certain mineral commodities that are vital to U.S. security and economic prosperity and that this dependency creates a strategic vulnerability to adverse foreign government action, natural disaster, and other events that can disrupt supplies. The new strategy is designed to reduce this dependence on imports, support job creation, improve the U.S.’ national security and balance of trade, and enhance the technological superiority and readiness of the U.S. armed forces, which are among the country’s most significant consumers of critical minerals.

It is not yet clear which minerals will be affected. The EO directs the Department of the Interior to publish within 60 days a list of critical minerals, which are defined as (1) non-fuel minerals or mineral materials essential to U.S. economic and national security, (2) the supply chain of which is vulnerable to disruption, and (3) that serve an essential function in the manufacturing of a product, the absence of which would have significant consequences for the U.S. economy or national security.

The EO establishes a federal policy of reducing the U.S.’ vulnerability to disruptions in the supply of critical minerals by (1) identifying new sources, (2) increasing activity at all levels of the supply chain, including exploration, mining, concentration, separation, alloying, recycling, and reprocessing, (3) streamlining leasing and permitting processes to expedite these activities, and (4) ensuring that U.S. miners and producers have electronic access to the most advanced topographic, geologic, and geophysical data within U.S. territory.

In addition, the EO requires the submission within 180 days of a report that includes (1) a strategy to reduce U.S. reliance on critical minerals, (2) an assessment of progress toward developing recycling and reprocessing technologies as well as technological alternatives, (3) options for accessing and developing critical minerals through investment and trade with U.S. allies and partners, (4) a plan to improve the topographic, geologic, and geophysical mapping of the U.S. and make the resulting data and metadata electronically accessible, and (5) recommendations to streamline permitting and review processes.

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