US President Donald Trump has ordered the Pentagon to find ways to increase the domestic production of rare-earth magnets under the 1950's Defence Production Act and notified the heads of the Congressional committees on Financial Services and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs that are overseeing its enactment.
In his letter to the committees, Trump argued that the country is currently unable to "provide the production capability" needed to make rare-earth magnets, which are "essential to the national defence", in sufficient quantities. The Pentagon has already tasked US miners with finding ways to raise production of the rare-earth elements needed for these magnets to be manufactured.
Trump put strong emphasis on the samarium-cobalt alloy, which is used in the creation of strong permanent magnets that, unlike other rare-earth magnets, is not susceptible to corrosion and can be used in harsh and high temperature conditions. Such magnets are actively used in sophisticated military equipment, as well as in consumer electronics and in the medical industry.
The US was previously a major producer of rare-earth elements, but has lost its leading position to China. The latter now supplies around 80% of US demand for rare-earth elements, but their shipments have come into question after Washington embarked on a trade war with Beijing in 2018. While China has never openly threatened to ban rare-earth exports to the US, analysts and the media, including Chinese outlets, have suggested that such a move could come in response to the White House's crackdown on Chinese telecom giant Huawei.
Washington has banned American companies from supplying Huawei with US-made technologies, which initially included chips and the Android OS, but Trump later eased the restrictions, limiting them only to technologies that are sensitive to US national security.