Australia Plans to Loosen China’s Grip on Minerals Supply Chain
A excavator operates on a mine floor in Australia. (Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg)

Australia Plans to Loosen China’s Grip on Minerals Supply Chain

Australia wants to leverage off its position as a top mineral producer by boosting processing and manufacturing, part of a plan to challenge China’s dominance in the supply of products key to the clean-energy transition.

The government unveiled a 10-year road map on Thursday that includes A$1.3 billion ($1 billion) of funding to help businesses capitalize on the country’s abundant natural resources and exploit opportunities in a de-carbonizing world. It encourages growth in high-value products like batteries and solar cells, as well as technologies and equipment that make mining safer and more efficient.

The Modern Manufacturing Initiative comes as the U.S. and Japan look to cut their dependence on China for minerals that are vital to many manufacturing sectors. Australia is the top exporter of lithium, a key component in batteries, and is also a major source of rare earths. Beijing is reviewing its rare earths policy and there are signs it may ban the export of refining technology to nations or firms that it deems are a threat to state security.

“It’s a sovereign and strategic priority for Australia to ensure that we are hard-wired into this supply chain around the world,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a media briefing following the announcement. It has to be “a supply chain that Australia and our partners can rely on, because these rare earths and critical minerals are what pull together the technology that we will be relying on into the future,” he said.

Lynas Rare Earths Ltd. currently sends rare earths from its operations in Australia to Malaysia for processing, but has plans to build a facility close to its Mt. Weld mine in the country’s west. Lynas’ rival Iluka Resources Ltd. is also assessing options to build processing capacity. Energy Renaissance, meanwhile, and other companies are looking to establish a domestic battery manufacturing industry on Australia’s east coast.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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