US discussed ‘creative ways’ to help get rare earths out of Mongolia

US discussed ‘creative ways’ to help get rare earths out of Mongolia
China has a huge lead over everyone else when it comes to mining and refining rare earths. The US hopes Mongolian resources might help to change that. / Peggy Greb, USDA, public domain
By bne IntelIiNews August 4, 2023

A US State Department official has briefed reporters that the US and Mongolia have discussed "very creative ways" of ensuring the Mongolians could get critical minerals onto the world market, despite their country being surrounded by China and Russia.

Asked about how to make sure Mongolia could export commodities such as rare earth elements (REEs) without hindrance, the official, reported Reuters on August 4, noted that the country was in a "tough geopolitical situation", being landlocked, but added: "So we talked about ... very creative ways where we can get that ... available to the market."

Mongolia’s potential in critical raw materials (CRM) was high on the agenda this week as the country’s prime minister, L. Oyun-Erdene, paid a visit to the US, meeting US Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington. During the trip, he said that Mongolia was planning to deepen cooperation with the US on mining rare earths and other minerals with high-tech applications. Such cooperation could prove a sensitive matter for both Moscow and Beijing, given current geopolitical tensions and rivalries in the energy transition and the technology race.

Mongolia, for instance, has huge reserves of copper, a metal vital for many high-tech applications, including some defence equipment, and to US President Joe Biden's efforts to transform the auto market with electric vehicles (EVs) in the battle against the climate crisis.

In May, bne IntelliNews reported on how Mongolia was making achingly slow progress in exploiting REE resources—an area in which China holds a near-monopoly on the global market, especially given its entirely unrivalled rare earth refining capabilities.

It appears that the US would like to inject some urgency, financing and expertise into Mongolia’s REE exploration and mining. The US official who spoke to reporters was further cited as saying: "The many discussions that we've had over the last few days were talking about specific areas where we can help Mongolia understand what it has, ways where it can extract it, and ways where it can produce it.

"We certainly are eager to help the Mongolians find creative solutions by which it can help take more control over mining, exploring, extracting and producing critical minerals and rare earth elements."

On August 4, Oyun-Erdene met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and signed an "Open Skies" civil aviation agreement.

Reporters were then told by the State Department that national carrier MIAT Mongolian Airlines would be able to fly direct to an as-yet-undecided US airport by next year. To date, direct flights between Mongolia and the US have never been established.

China last year accounted for more than 70% of world rare earth production.