Bipartisan senators on Jan. 14 introduced a bill aiming to force defense contractors to end the use of rare earth minerals sourced from China by 2026.
According to Reuters, the bill was co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona.
If passed, the legislation would prohibit Pentagon contractors from using Chinese rare earths in four years. At the same time, defense contractors would have to clarify the sources of their minerals.
Cotton said that ending America’s reliance on China for rare earth extraction and processing is essential to the defense and technological sectors of the United States. However, he also urged the government to “encourage more domestic (rare earth) development in our country.”
By mandating defense contractors to stop depending on China for rare earth, the measure effectively utilizes the Pentagon’s procurement of billions of dollars worth of fighter planes, missiles, and other weaponry as leverage to encourage a recovery in U.S. rare earth manufacturing.
The bill is part of a series of U.S. efforts to prevent the Chinese regime’s near-monopoly in the rare-earths industry.
The bill would also make the Pentagon’s ongoing stockpile of raw materials permanent. In 2010, China briefly halted rare earth exports to Japan and hinted that it would do the same to the U.S.
The bill included a call on the U.S. Trade Representative and Department of Commerce to investigate China’s unfair trade practices was included in the proposal to clarify whether China is distorting the rare earth market and recommend whether trade sanctions are needed.
“Our bipartisan bill will strengthen America’s position as a global leader in technology by reducing our country’s reliance on adversaries like China for rare earth elements,” Sen. Mark Kelly said.
Asked if such a move would be viewed as hostile by Beijing, Sen. Cotton said: “I don’t think the answer to Chinese aggression or Chinese threats is to continue to subject ourselves to Chinese threats.”
The act applies only to weapons, not other equipment purchased by the U.S. military.
The Pentagon has provided funding to companies trying to revive U.S. rare earth processing and magnet production over the past two years, including MP Materials Corp, Australia’s Lynas Rare Earth Ltd, TDA Magnetics Inc, and Urban Mining Co.
MP Materials Corp, which runs the only rare earths mine in the U.S. and relies on Chinese processors, said the bill was an ongoing effort by the Department of Defense and the broader U.S. government to protect the domestic rare earth supply chain and foster free and fair competition.