Australia says advancing talks with US on rare earths mines to bolster production outside China

A truck carrying rare earth travels towards a processing plant northeast of Perth in Western Australia, on Aug 23, 2019.
A truck carrying rare earth travels towards a processing plant northeast of Perth in Western Australia, on Aug 23, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

MELBOURNE (BLOOMBERG) - Australia is advancing separate talks with the United States, Japan and South Korea over the development of local rare earths mining projects in an effort to bolster production outside China, which dominates the output of the materials.

Rare earths, a group of 17 elements needed in components for missile systems to consumer electronics, had been flagged as a potential weapon in the US-China trade tensions, focusing attention on work to develop new sources of supply.

"There is a good case for worldwide cooperation here to diversify the supply of these minerals," Australia's Resources Minister Matt Canavan said on Sunday (Oct 13) in an interview with Sky News television.

"The concentration of all these markets could cause a risk to the security and affordability of the supply of these critical minerals," he said.

Australian officials held new talks last week with US counterparts and are considering how best to help projects win access to financing and to secure long-term supply deals, he said. Similar discussions were held last month in Japan and South Korea, Mr Canavan said.

President Donald Trump in July ordered the Defence Department to spur production of a range of rare-earth magnets used in military hardware amid concerns China could restrict exports of the products.

US Geological Survey scientists have also visited projects in Australia in the past year, including Northern Minerals' Browns Range development.

Lynas Corp, the largest supplier of rare earths outside China, has held discussions with US defence department and the Defence Logistics Agency, the producer said in August. The company, with a mine in Australia and processing plant in Malaysia, is considering plans to add a facility in Texas.