(Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic is hobbling U.S. efforts to produce lithium, rare earths and other materials used in electric vehicles and high-tech equipment, dealing a blow to President Donald Trump’s plan to curb Chinese control of the strategic minerals sector.
As the pandemic has killed nearly 20,000 across the globe, U.S. junior miners have slowed engineering work, environmental reviews and loan applications. “We can just hit pause,” said Keith Phillips, chief executive of North Carolina’s Piedmont Lithium Ltd.
Piedmont, Lithium Americas Corp and ioneer Ltd, both of which have Nevada projects, have said they now face engineering or regulatory setbacks that could push back mine construction.
Most companies focused on U.S. strategic minerals have large cash reserves after recent stock and bond offerings. While none have yet to report an employee testing positive, the virus has nevertheless fueled a bunker mentality among some executives.
“Coronavirus could cause a year or two delay on projects,” said Seth Goldstein, a minerals analyst at Morningstar. “That helps China right now.”
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