September 26, 2019 / 3:23 PM / 25 days ago

Nine countries join U.S. strategic minerals initiative

Sept 26 (Reuters) - 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.

“What we see is an opportunity to provide a government to government engagement,” Frank Fannon, the top U.S. energy diplomat, said in an interview. “U.S. companies require a certain set of above-ground conditions regardless of what’s below ground.”

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.

Mining companies 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.”

The U.S. Department of Defense is also searching for better supplies of strategic minerals, including rare earths, around the globe. Reuters reported in June that the Pentagon held talks with Malawi’s Mkango Resources Ltd, Burundi’s Rainbow Rare Earths Ltd and other miners about securing supply. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Ernest Scheyder Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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