A report by the U.S. Commerce Department recommends the government strengthen relations with foreign companies that provide minerals critical to military development.
The report was released Tuesday amid a trade war between the United States and China.
“The United States is heavily dependent on critical mineral imports. If China or Russia were to stop exports to the United States and its allies for a prolonged period — similar to China’s rare earths embargo in 2010 — an extended supply disruption could cause significant shocks throughout U.S. and foreign critical mineral supply chains,” the report states.
The report also notes that the U.S. is import-reliant on 31 of the 35 minerals designated as critical by the Department of the Interior. Furthermore, the U.S. completely relies on imports for 14 of these minerals.
The report also says the country’s imports of “critical mineral commodities” exceed 50 percent of its annual consumption. These rare earth minerals are often used in the production of aircraft, computers and GPS systems.
Last year China produced 78 percent of the world’s rare earth minerals, according to researchers at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
“These critical minerals are often overlooked but modern life without them would be impossible,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a news release. “Through the recommendations detailed in this report, the Federal government will take unprecedented action to ensure that the United States will not be cut off from these vital minerals.”
One solution to this problem is to enhance international trade and cooperation in relation to rare earth minerals, according to the report.
However, the Government Accountability Office in April found that the U.S. is reliant on China for several critical minerals. And China has noted that it could cut off the U.S. from some rare earth minerals should the trade war continue.
The report from the Department of Commerce proposes a continued expansion of rare earth minerals trading with Canada, Australia, the European Union, Japan and South Korea. It notably does not include China.
The report does, however, mention China as an area to which American production companies relocated, and it called for more investment in the National Defense Stockpile program.
The NDS program, which would provide critical materials to support industrial investments to help civilian needs in an emergency, is not financially sustainable, according to the report.
The report also recommends the U.S. expand public-private partnerships to spur investment from industry, and that the country focus on expanding domestic production of critical minerals to break its import reliance.
Kelsey Reichmann is a general assignment editorial fellow supporting Defense News, Fifth Domain, C4ISRNET and Federal Times. She attended California State University.