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Biden's minerals strategy gets panned

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Mar 21, 2024
State Department official Jose Fernandez

Fernandez testifies in 2023. Photo: Valerie Plesch/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Biden's chief overseas mining security official assured Congress he's moving swiftly to address China's resource stranglehold.

Why it matters: U.S. officials trying to counter China's Belt and Road Initiative risk getting political backlash from Republicans' nationalist wing.

Driving the news: Biden's signature overseas mining initiative — the Mineral Security Partnership — is activating projects at "lightning speed," State Department undersecretary Jose Fernandez told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday.

  • Fernandez runs the MSP, which he explained made a few big announcements late last year, including the U.S. lending up to $150 million to a graphite mine in Mozambique.
  • "Countries are hungry for U.S. investment," he said. "We have a different offer from the PRC."

Between the lines: The most blistering criticism came from Rep. Keith Self, who said almost all minerals considered "critical" by the U.S. are in Alaska. So, he asked, why talk to other countries?

  • "We have looked at projects in the U.S.," Fernandez said. "If there are projects in Alaska, we will help find investors. We will help find financing."

Catch up quick: The MSP organizes financing from both U.S. agencies as well as other countries and private capital.

  • The MSP includes partner nations such as Australia, Japan, South Korea and the U.K.

Friction point: When asked by Chris Smith, Fernandez declined to endorse a bill that would make the U.S. assume cobalt imported from Congo is tainted by child labor.

  • Fernandez didn't comment directly on the measure. But he did speak of a competitive advantage in getting involved in Congo's cobalt industry to be able to address concerns about child labor and other human rights.

Note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Fernandez spoke of a competitive advantage in getting involved in Congo's cobalt industry to address concerns about child labor and other human rights. (He did not say child labor creates a competitive advantage.)

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