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Trump Tariff List Targets High-Tech Minerals That U.S. Needs

Given the Trump administration’s stated aim of maintaining its advantage in manufacturing prowess over China, there are some curious inclusions on Wednesday’s list of new tariffs.

Among them are rare-earths, an esoteric collection of minerals with strange names (yttrium, praseodymium), high-tech applications and a history of scarcity. They’re used in everything from hybrid vehicles to electronic gadgets and military hardware.

China’s grip on rare-earths supply is so strong that the U.S. joined with other nations earlier this decade in a World Trade Organization case to force the nation to export more of the materials, not less, after prices spiked amid a global shortage. The WTO ruled in favor of the U.S., while prices eventually slumped as manufacturers turned to alternatives.

Imposing duties will “bring home to the American public the reality of how much of what they use in everyday life contains these technology metals,” Jack Lifton, the Michigan-based founder of rare earth consulting service Technology Metals Research LLC, said by phone. “The Chinese mine the rare-earths, they separate them, they refine them. This is the long-term trend and a 10 percent tariff will not do anything to stir any domestic production in the U.S.”

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