America’s Troubling and Growing Reliance on Foreign Minerals – by Mark J. Perry (Inside Sources – January 24, 2018)

To grasp the seriousness of America’s heavy reliance on imports of strategically important minerals, consider that many of the metals needed for weapons systems and a wide array of consumer products come from countries that don’t always have our nation’s best interests in mind.

Once the undisputed global leader in minerals production, the U.S. mining industry is now well on its way to second-tier status. Domestic mines have been closing, leading to a 13 percent drop in our nation’s share of global investments in metals mining over the past decade and an increased reliance on minerals imports. Last year, American companies spent more than $7 billion on imported minerals.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. dependence on minerals from abroad has doubled in the last 20 years, and we are now import-dependent on more than half of 50 key mineral commodities and 100 percent import-dependent for 20 of those, including manganese, tantalum and rare earth minerals such as neodymium, samarium and dysprosium, which are crucial in the manufacture of jet fighter engines, antimissile defense systems, night vision goggles and smart bombs, among other advanced weapons systems.

The new leaders in global minerals production are China, Russia and, notably, Africa. In recent years, China has imposed export restrictions on rare earth minerals, forcing prices for the minerals to increase by nearly 300 percent and tightening the supplies available to American manufacturers.

The risk is that mineral exporting countries will form a price-fixing cartel for mineral commodities similar to the one that petroleum exporters used in the 1970s to ramp up the world price of crude oil. China, a major supplier of rare earth metals that are integral to nearly all high-end electronics, ranging from cell phones to flat-screen TVs, is seen as the potential leader of a global minerals OPEC.

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