The Western countries are pushing towards self-reliance in the procurement of scarce metals and minerals as China continues to dominate the rare earth elements around the world. These Elements are essential for the manufacture of electric car batteries, satellites, weapons, wind turbines and solar panels.
Rare earth elements are produced in a handful of countries and play an essential role in technology, from microchips to speakers to X-ray imaging.
According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), China provides more than 85 per cent of the world’s rare earth and is home to about two-thirds of the global supply of scarce metals and minerals like antimony and baryte.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) in its latest report said that China dominates solar PV manufacturing and is home to more than 90 per cent of the world’s wafer manufacturing capacity.
China had most of the world’s capacity for key components used in lithium-ion battery manufacturing and 80 per cent of global battery cell manufacturing capacity, CSIS said.
According to the Hong Kong-based newspaper, the United States and European countries fear that any disruption to their supply chains for such products will hurt key industries.
In February, EU President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen had said that the European Union must wean off its over-reliance on imports from abroad to drive its technological development, such as China’s dominance in providing rare earth elements.
“Green and digital technologies currently depend on a number of scarce raw materials. We import lithium for electric cars, platinum to produce clean hydrogen, silicon metal for solar panels, 98 per cent of the rare earth elements we need come from a single supplier – China – and this is not sustainable,” von der Leyen said.
The EU president said that the creation of a European Raw Materials Alliance last year was made for this purpose, so as to alleviate the bloc’s reliance on extractive practices and to circulate critical material among member states.
Later in March, Australian rare earth producer ASM strengthened its supply chain by closing a deal with two regional governments in South Korea, in what was seen as a snub to China which has a virtual monopoly on processing rare earth metals.
ASM would be building its first processing plant for the critical mineral amid a global rush to secure supply chains, SCMP reported.
China’s rare earth production has declined modestly since it introduced new laws to curb exports late last year and after it introduced new quotas in January to lower the domestic mining and refining of rare earth metals to reduce environmental damage, causing concerns over a global shortage in supply.
Other rare earth-producing countries like Australia have also been seeking to boost the resilience of their supply chains, particularly since the start of 2020. US President Joe Biden signed an executive order in February for his administration to review the vulnerability of its supply chains for critical materials, including rare earth.