China agrees to buy rare earths that US doesn’t have to give

Extruded europium (Eu) metal. Europium is one of the rarest of the rare earth elements on Earth. Credit: Ames Laboratory | Flickr

The phase one trade deal that lists the items China agreed to buy more from the U.S. includes rare earths that are already in short supply in the North American nation.

Scandium, used in missile guidance systems and other defense applications, and yttrium that goes into targeting systems are among the critical minerals that the U.S. Commerce vowed to secure at the height of the trade war between Beijing and Washington. The two are included in the long list of manufactured goods itemized in the 86-page agreement signed Wednesday.

No scandium was mined in the U.S. in 2018 and the small amount produced in the country comes exclusively as a byproduct for tailings and residues of other materials, the U.S. Geological Survey website said in its website. The country’s net import reliance accounts for 100% of its apparent demand of scandium, it said. Imports of yttrium are equal to more than 95% of domestic consumption, it said.

Increasing U.S. rare earth exports could contradict a Commerce Department recommendation last year to secure supply of these raw materials, including improving the government’s understanding of domestic sources and expediting approvals of mining permits.

“As with our energy security, the Trump administration is dedicated to ensuring that we are never held hostage to foreign powers for the natural resources critical to our national security and economic growth,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in June 2019.

(By Luzi Ann Javier, with assistance from Joe Deaux and Justina Vasquez)

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