Yellen urges less dependence on other nations for key supplies, urges ‘friendly shoring’

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the U.S. should work on shifting its dependence away from some rival nations for supplies of critical inputs as global supply-chain logjams have hurt the domestic economy.

“We saw during the pandemic that our supply chains were very brittle and really lacking in resilience,” she said Monday. 

Yellen repeated her support for so-called friend-shoring, saying “countries that espouse a common set of values about international trade and conduct in the global economy should trade and get the benefits of trade so we have multiple sources of supply and are not reliant excessively on sourcing critical goods from countries where, especially, we have geopolitical concerns.”

“A friend-shoring group could be a reasonable large set of countries,” she added.

Yellen made the comments during a trip to Toronto where she appeared alongside Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

The Treasury chief noted that the U.S. is “enormously dependent” on geopolitical adversary China for rare-earth metals, key components in making so-called permanent magnets used in everything from lithium-ion batteries to electric vehicles.

China accounted for 78% of rare-earth compounds and metals imports to the U.S. between 2017 and 2020, according to the US Geological Survey. Of increasing attention by politicians in Washington is the need for responsible mining and ethical sourcing of rare earths, as the mining industry points to poorer working conditions, corruption, child labor and other problems in some mining jurisdictions around the globe.

Yellen said that she isn’t advocating that the US makes everything on its own, saying “that can go in a very protectionist and expensive direction.” 

Supply-chain issues have contributed to accelerating consumer-price growth. Prices climbed 8.6% in May from a year earlier, the fastest pace in four decades, while fears have intensified of a recession on the horizon as the Federal Reserve raises rates to curb inflation. 

Canada is a potential source of some products that countries have for many years obtained from China and Russia, Freeland said. 

“What we can really contribute in a world of friend-shoring is critical metals and minerals and energy,” she said.

The US already imports many minerals from Canada, including cobalt, nickel, aluminum and graphite. Freeland pointed out her government has earmarked $3 billion in its federal budget to implement a new critical minerals strategy over eight years.

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