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President Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He talk to reporters in the Oval Office. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rare earth minerals and elements are necessary components of tech and defense tools, including smartphones, LED lights, wind turbines and nuclear rods. And their critical role in modern manufacturing has turned them into the latest lightning rod in the trade war between China and the U.S.

Driving the news: After President Trump blacklisted Chinese tech company Huawei and threatened to target other Chinese tech firms by disallowing American companies to do business with them, China signaled it could target rare earth minerals.

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping recently visited a key rare earth minerals area of China, analysts say as a symbolic show of force of what the U.S. has to lose if Trump pushes forward with blacklisting.
  • Though the U.S. does have rare earth minerals, the process of mining and refining them is difficult and environmentally dangerous (sometimes releasing radioactivity), so very few domestic facilities exist.

Why it matters: Pushing beyond tariffs and into outright restrictions on trade and international cooperation would take the trade war to a new and more damaging level for individual companies and the stock market.

The big picture: Critics have argued the trade war has been a blessing for China because it has re-focused its business and political leaders on parts of the economy where it is reliant on the U.S. A roadblock on rare earths could prove a similar jolt for American businesses that have long depended on China for essential materials to make their products.

  • This month, a bill was proposed in the Senate that could help spur mining of U.S. rare earth elements and other similar minerals.
  • Enter Blue Line and Lynas Corp, 2 companies hoping to make rare earth mining in America great again by building a plant in Hondo, Texas.

Yes, but: While Trump has been looking to bolster U.S. economic independence, moving away from China will not be easy. As with many industries, China has built an intricate supply chain and has a number of competitive advantages in rare earth mining and export.

  • One big reason Lynas is likely looking to move to the U.S. is its fight with the Malaysian government over environmental conditions and an attempt to force the company to pay for clean-up of a radioactive substance produced in the rare earth mining process.
  • Trump's latest $16 billion farm aid package to farmers show he is willing to spend government money to compensate for trade war casualties, but his ability to further crimp American environmental protection standards may be limited.

Go deeper ... OECD: U.S.-China trade war puts global economy "in a dangerous place"

Go deeper

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Credit: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine Thursday night, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

4 hours ago - World

Zelensky questions U.S. warnings of "imminent" invasion in Biden call

Biden and Zelensky at the White House last October. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty

President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had a back-and-forth in their call this evening about just how "imminent" the threat of a Russian invasion might be, according to three sources briefed on the call.

Why it matters: Biden has said previously that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin will probably "move in" to Ukraine, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday afternoon that "an invasion could come at any time."

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