Nine countries join U.S. strategic minerals initiative

September 27, 2019 - 8:42 AM
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends lunch with counterparts China, Britain, Russia and France, the permanent five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends a lunch hosted by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi with his counterparts of the permanent five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council in New York, U.S., September 26, 2019. (Reuters/Yana Paskova)

The United States on Thursday said nine countries have joined its initiative to help discover and develop reserves of minerals used to make electric vehicles, part of an effort to cut the world’s reliance on China for the high-tech materials.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday met with foreign ministers from the nine countries on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The countries joining the United States include Australia, Botswana, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, the Philippines and Zambia.

Under the Energy Resource Governance Initiative (ERGI) announced in June, the United States will share mining expertise with member countries to help them discover and develop their minerals such as lithium, copper and cobalt, as well as advise on management and governance frameworks to help ensure their industries are attractive to international investors.

“U.S. companies require a certain set of above-ground conditions regardless of what’s below ground,” Frank Fannon, the top U.S. energy diplomat, said in an interview.

Washington grew more concerned recently about its dependence on mineral imports after Beijing suggested using them as leverage in the trade war between the world’s largest economic powers. That could interrupt the manufacture of a wide range of consumer, industrial and military goods, including mobile phones, electric vehicles, batteries, and fighter jets.

Miners in Congo have struggled to secure their sites from small scale prospectors digging for minerals. In June, 43 illegal miners were killed by a landslide at a Glencore facility in Congo, highlighting the challenge.

When it first introduced ERGI, the State Department said Canada was part of the initiative, but the U.S. neighbor was not listed as a member on Thursday because Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland stayed at home for the election campaign period.

A U.S. official said the Trump administration “remains hopeful that Canada will join the initiative in the near future.”

Other nations have invested in the United States. An Australian investment group, formerly known as Morzev Pty Ltd before changing its name to USA Rare Earth, is developing the Round Top mine in Texas with Texas Mineral Resources Corp .

“Australia sees Round Top as a key investment into the U.S. critical materials space,” said Pini Althaus, USA Rare Earth’s chief executive.

Canada’s Medallion Resources Ltd, a rival rare earths company, is considering investing in the United States and on Thursday said it found a way to automate part of its production process.—Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Marguerita Choy