A Chinese-led coalition threatens to further tighten control of the rare earths trade with the purchase of the only operational rare earth metals mine in America. The Mountain Pass Mine in the California desert south of Las Vegas was a powerhouse producer of REEs from 1965 to 1985, at which point China took over global production and never looked back. Mountain Pass was shuttered from 2002 to 2012 because it couldn’t compete with the low prices coming out of China. After a brief revival from 2012 to 2015, Mountain Pass closed for good in 2016 and its owner, Molycorp, filed for bankruptcy. This past June, an investor group with alleged ties to the Chinese government bought the mine for $20.5 million, beating out American bidders including entrepreneur Tom Clarke of ERP Strategic Minerals.
Some minor metals used in high-tech industries, such as bismuth, titanium and cobalt, are still on the tariff list. However, barite and antimony are not included in the new tariffs. Antimony, along with antimony oxide, made up $108.5 million of imports from China last year, according to USTR data. Natural graphite, which is used in steelmaking and lithium-ion batteries, also won a reprieve. Tungsten, used to harden steel, now only features in 11 categories on the final tariff list, half the original number.