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Yellen urges less dependence on other nations for key supplies

June 20, 2022 Updated Mon., June 20, 2022 at 8:01 p.m.

Janet Yellen, U.S. Treasury secretary, listens during a Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on June 7, 2022.   (Bloomberg )
Janet Yellen, U.S. Treasury secretary, listens during a Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on June 7, 2022.  (Bloomberg )
By Christopher Condon and Danielle Bochove Bloomberg

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the U.S. should work on shifting dependence on some 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, where supply chains are made up of “countries that espouse a common set of values.”

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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

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