Solid US Jobs Report Could Allay Fears of Weakening Economy

With worries rising about trade wars and slower global growth, Friday’s jobs figures for May could serve as a reminder that the U.S. economy is still mostly in good shape.

 

Or, an unexpectedly weak employment report could intensify concerns that after a healthy first quarter, the U.S. economy is actually stumbling.

 

Economists have forecast that the government will report that employers added 185,000 jobs, a solid figure consistent with this year’s average monthly gain. The unemployment rate is expected to remain at a nearly 50-year low of 3.6%, according to data provider FactSet.

 

The economy is showing signs of sluggishness after having expanded at a healthy 3.1% annual rate in the April-June quarter. Consumers have been cautious about spending, and companies are scaling back their investment in high-cost machinery and equipment.

 

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta estimates that annual growth will slump to just 1.5% in the April-June quarter. That potential weakening, driven in part by President Donald Trump’s trade conflicts, has also raised pressure on Federal Reserve policymakers to consider cutting short-term interest rates in the coming months. For most of this year, the Fed has indicated that it would take a patient approach toward rate changes.

 

Manufacturers have barely added jobs in the past three months after healthy gains last year, a sign that trade conflicts and a slowdown in auto sales might be slowing hiring. Retailers, hammered by online competition, have cut jobs for the past three months. Home building and commercial construction have weakened, a trend that could force builders to shed workers.

 

Professional and business services, which include high-paying accounting and engineering jobs, have added workers at a healthy pace this year. So have the education and health services industries.

 

If employers remain optimistic about the long run, they might look beyond a weak patch for the economy and keep adding jobs. Additional strong hiring could provide vital support to the economy. Steady job growth has compelled many employers to raise pay to attract and keep workers, which, in turn, has forced up average hourly wages. Average wages rose 3.2% in April compared with a year ago, a solid if not exceptional gain.

 

Trump last month increased tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports from 10% to 25%. And last week, he threatened to impose 5% tariffs on all Mexican imports to the United States beginning Monday. Those taxes would rise each month until they reach 25% in October unless the Mexican government cuts off a flow of Central American migrants entering the United States from through Mexico.

 

The higher costs from the import taxes – and the potential for more – might be causing companies to scale back plans for spending, investment and expansion. Orders for machinery and equipment fell 1% in April. A strong dollar, which makes U.S. goods costlier overseas, has also slowed the production and export of manufactured goods. A separate report from the Fed showed that factory output fell 0.5% in April.

 

Automakers are cutting jobs and production as U.S. sales have slowed. Analysts expect auto sales to fall below 17 million this year after four years above that level.

 

Ford Motor Co. said last month that it was cutting 7,000 white-collar jobs – about 10% of its salaried workforce – as part of preparations for an industry driven more by electric and autonomous vehicles. Last year, GM said it would shed 14,000 workers.

 

Home sales have been weak this year despite a sharp drop in mortgage rates. Sales fell 4.4% in April compared with a year earlier. Home price gains are slowing in much of the country, though, which, combined with more affordable mortgages, could soon revive sales.

 

 

Fiat Chrysler Drops Renault Merger Idea

Italian-U.S. carmaker Fiat Chrysler on Thursday pulled the plug on its proposed merger with Renault, saying negotiations had become “unreasonable” because of  political resistance in Paris.  

 

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, or FCA, had stunned the markets last week with a proposed “merger of equals” with the French group that would — together with Renault’s Japanese partners, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors — create an auto giant spanning the globe.  

 

The French government, which controls 15 percent of Renault, gave the deal a conditional green light, with analysts suggesting it wanted more control over the combined group alongside Fiat’s Agnelli family. 

 

FCA said late Wednesday that it “remains firmly convinced of the compelling, transformational rationale” of the tie-up, which it said was “carefully balanced to deliver substantial benefits to all parties.”

 

“However it has become clear that the political conditions in France do not currently exist for such a combination to proceed successfully,” it said in a statement.  

 

On Thursday, FCA chief John Elkann stood by the decision to start, and then leave, the merger talks. 

 

“When it becomes clear that the conversations have been brought to the point beyond which it becomes unreasonable to go, it is necessary to be equally brave to interrupt them,” Elkann wrote in a letter to employees published by Italian media.  

Renault expressed its “disappointment” at the turnabout. 

 

“We view the [Fiat] opportunity as timely, having compelling industrial logic and great financial merit, and which would result in a European-based global auto powerhouse,” it said in a statement. 

 

The combined group, including Nissan and Mitsubishi, would have been by far the world’s biggest, with total sales of 15 million vehicles, compared with both Volkswagen and Toyota, which sell around 10.6 million apiece. 

 

Shares in Renault plunged by more than 6 percent on the Paris stock exchange. In Milan, FCA shares also initially slid but then recovered to close up 0.1 percent.

Nissan holds key

Despite the verbal sparring that erupted after FCA’s announcement, industry experts did not rule out talks being resumed.  

 

“The collapse of the proposed Fiat Chrysler/Renault merger leaves both firms exposed to the shifting dynamics of a sector at a crossroads,” Ilana Elbim, credit analyst for Hermes Investment Management, said in a note.  

 

Pointing to falling sales volumes in major auto markets, she said “mega-mergers designed to save on capital expenditures remain inevitable.” 

 

On Tuesday, Renault’s board had said it was studying FCA’s offer “with interest,” but held off final approval pending further deliberations.  

 

By Wednesday, all Renault directors had come around in favor of the merger, with the exception of the employee representative affiliated with the powerful CGT union and two from Nissan who abstained, according to a source close to Renault.   

The two Nissan directors were said to have asked for more time to approve the deal. There was no official comment from Nissan headquarters in Tokyo. 

 

Relations between Renault and Nissan have come under strain since the arrest in November of their joint boss, Carlos Ghosn, who awaits trial in Japan on charges of financial misconduct. 

 

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire had laid down conditions for the tie-up with FCA, insisting there be no plant closures and that the Renault-Nissan alliance be preserved.  

 

The Renault source said Le Maire had asked for another board meeting next Tuesday following his return from a trip to Japan, where he was to discuss the proposal with his Japanese counterpart at a meeting of G-20 finance ministers.  

Blame game

A source close to FCA said it was the “sudden and incomprehensible” objections by Le Maire’s ministry that had caused the deal to collapse. 

 

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said: “When politics tries to intervene in economic procedures, they don’t always behave correctly, I don’t want to say any more.”   

But Le Maire stressed that, of his conditions, only the explicit approval of Nissan remained to be secured, while aides denied that the ministry had played politics with the deal. 

 

A source close to the finance ministry said the French government “regrets the hasty decision of FCA.” 

 

“Despite significant progress, a short delay was still necessary so that all conditions set by the state could be met,” it said. 

 

Le Maire indicated the French government was amenable to changes at Renault despite FCA’s U-turn. 

 

“We remain open to the prospect of industrial consolidation, but once again, in calmness, without haste, to guarantee the industrial interests of Renault and the industrial interests of the French nation,” he told the French parliament. 

 

For his part, Elkann said FCA “will continue to be open to opportunities of all kinds that offer the possibility of strengthening and accelerating the realization of this strategy and creating value.” 

IMF: US Trade Wars Are Risk to America’s Economy

The U.S. economy could be weakened by escalating trade wars or a sudden downturn in global financial markets, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warns.

In an annual review of the U.S. economy, the IMF said it was on a 2.6 percent growth track this year, greater than the 2.3 percent growth rate forecast in April.

But the report also said the U.S. economy appears to be increasingly vulnerable amid investor concern over America’s trade wars, noting they could trigger worsening global financial conditions.

The IMF criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration for efforts to remake global trade relationships through higher tariffs and said it was “especially important” to resolve the trade dispute with China.

The report said the U.S. economy has recovered from the financial crisis that began in 2008, but millions of Americans did not benefit from the recovery. Household income increased a meager 2.2 percent from the end of the last century, the report said, while the U.S. economy expanded 23 percent per capita during the same period.

“The poorest 40 percent of households have a level of net wealth that is lower today than it was in 1983,” the report said.

The report called on the Trump administration to avert an economic slowdown by adopting measures to cut public and corporate debt and address inequality.

On Wednesday, the IMF warned the U.S.-China trade war could cut world economic growth next year.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said Trump’s threat to tax all trade between the two countries would shrink the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by one-half-of-one percent.

“This amounts to a loss of about about $455 billion, larger than the size of South Africa’s economy,” Lagarde said in a briefing note for the Group of Twenty (G-20), a collection of the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies. “These are self-inflicted wounds that must be avoided… by removing the recently implemented trade barriers and by avoiding further barriers in whatever form,” she added.

The warning came as G-20 finance ministers and central bankers prepare to meet in Japan later this month. They will gather just weeks after U.S.-China talks collapsed amid claims of broken promises and another round of punishing tariffs.

Vietnam Businesses Push for Green Economy

Liz Hung supports a lot of the imaginative concepts being discussed to make Vietnam “greener” economically and in terms of urban planning.

 

Consider traffic lights. Hung described how government authorities could collect smartphone data to see which streets are crowded, and then calibrate the stoplights to optimize traffic flow.

 

Hung and others in the private sector are giving Vietnamese officials their wish list for a green economy, from more renewable energy to buildings that collect rain water for use.

 

“Road congestion costs us at least 2 to 5% of our [gross domestic product] growth every year because of the time we lost or the high transportation cost, so that is why being smart [in] mobility is very crucial,” said Hung, who is CBRE associate director of Asia Pacific Research.

 

Hung’s comment highlights the link between good city planning and economic benefits.

Emulating China, Australia

 

There is also a larger debate about whether the economic benefits outweigh the costs of going green.

 

There is a financial cost of technology to make Vietnam more efficient. But there also is a security cost, as “smart devices,” like lights connected to the internet, have looser security settings that make them easier to hack.

 

In looking for inspiration for Vietnam’s future, Hung looked at places from Hangzhou, China, where she heard about the traffic data, to Adelaide, Australia, where authorities installed smart sensors in trash bins, which alert garbage collectors when the bins are nearly full.

 

If the idea is to increase efficiency, Vietnam should think about energy use, said Tomaso Andreatta, vice chair at the European Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam.

 

Last month, the chamber held a forum on sustainable cities. In addition to rooftop solar panels and wind turbines, some cities are exploring ways to create energy from things that would otherwise be tossed out.

 

Trash can be burned, for example, to boil water for steam generators that produce electricity, a process known as waste-to-energy. This does risk increasing carbon emissions or decreasing incentives for recycling, however.

Aiming for zero waste

 

“More and more we realize that resources are limited, and producing waste destroys the quality of life,” Andreatta said. “Therefore, there’s been a movement worldwide to reducing waste to an absolute minimum, ideally zero.”

 

He went on to say, “The rapid development of the middle class and its lifestyle, which includes intensive air conditioning use, accounts for a considerable proportion of energy consumption growth.”

 

It may be the middle class that benefits most from a greener Vietnam, where the private sector steps in to create greater efficiencies, when the government is not involved.

 

Property developers are building enclosed communities where sustainability is part of the design, whether it’s motion-detecting lights, or insulation that keeps indoor temperatures manageable. One developer introduced pollution warnings. Another made a transportation app just for its residents.

 

But what about those who are not lucky enough to live in a gated community?

 

Government officials say they are listening to proposals across all sectors. They say that as Vietnam faces a major threat from climate change, it needs to make greater efforts at green planning.

 

“Climate change will have a big impact on the region,” said Huynh Xuan Thu, deputy chief officer of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Architecture and Urban Planning.

 

Some of the ideas, such as a country full of electric cars, may be a pipe dream or years down the road. But Vietnam is getting started on some of the proposals.

 

In Ho Chi Minh City, officials are looking at traffic sensors and gathering data on congestion, which they hope to reduce through technology in the near future.

 

US Productivity Grew at Solid 3.4% Rate in First Quarter

U.S. productivity grew at a strong 3.4% rate in the January-March quarter, the best showing in more than four years, the Labor Department reported Thursday. It was an encouraging sign that productivity may finally be improving after a long stretch of weakness.

 

The first quarter gain was more than double the 1.3% increase in the fourth quarter, although it was slightly lower than an initial estimate of 3.6% made a month ago. Labor costs fell during the first quarter, declining by 1.6% following a 0.4% drop in the fourth quarter.

 

Productivity, the amount of output per hour of work, is a key factor determining an economy’s growth potential. If the current rebound continues, it would provide support for President Donald Trump’s efforts to achieve sustained 3% growth rates.

 

The slight downward revision in productivity reflected the fact that overall output, as measured by gross domestic product, was revised down from an initial estimate of 3.2% growth to 3.1% growth in the first quarter.

 

The 3.4% advance in productivity was the strongest increase since a 3.7% rise in the third quarter of 2014. Productivity has risen 2.4% over the past four quarters, the best performance since a 2.7% four-quarter gain in 2010.

 

Productivity gains over the past decade have been lackluster, averaging just 1.3% annually from 2007 through 2018. That was less than half the 2.7% gains seen from 2000 to 2007, a period when the economy was benefiting from technology improvements in computers and the internet. From 1947 through 2018, annual productivity gains averaged 2.1%.

 

Economists see the slowdown in productivity over the past decade as one of the country’s biggest economic challenges. But recent signs indicate that may be turning around. The economy’s potential to grow is governed by two major factors, growth of the labor force and growth in productivity.

 

For all of 2018, GDP growth was 2.9%. The Trump administration has projected sustained GDP gains of 3% or better over the next decade, well above the 2.2% average GDP gains seen since the current expansion began in June 2009.

 

In a separate report Thursday, the Labor Department said that applications for unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, held steady at 218,000 last week. That is a low level that indicates a strong job market. The government will release its May jobs report on Friday.

 

 

World Bank: Iran Likely to Suffer Worse Recession Than Previously Thought

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.

WASHINGTON —The World Bank says Iran is likely to experience an even worse recession this year than previously thought, as U.S. sanctions largely choke off oil exports that have been Tehran’s main revenue source.

In its latest Global Economic Prospects report published Wednesday, the Washington-based institution that provides loans to countries said it expects Iran’s Gross Domestic Product to shrink by 4.5% this year, a steeper contraction than its earlier estimate of negative 3.6% GDP growth for 2019.

“The oil industry is an important part of Iran’s economy, and its oil production is clearly going to drop because of the new U.S. sanctions,” said Patrick Clawson, research director for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in a VOA Persian interview on Wednesday.

The Trump administration imposed a total, unilateral ban on Iranian oil exports on May 2 as part of its campaign of “maximum pressure” on Iran to negotiate an end to its perceived malign behaviors. It had issued sanctions waivers to eight of Iran’s oil customers in November to allow them to keep importing Iranian crude for six months, but later said it would not renew those waivers and would require those customers to reduce such imports to zero.

U.S. economist Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore told VOA Persian in another Wednesday interview that Iran’s internal economic problems also are to blame for its worsening recession. “Iran is very corrupt, has very little economic freedom, and it’s hard to start a business there because Iran is not really a free market or liberal economy,” Hanke said.

Transparency International, a Berlin-based civil society organization that monitors global corruption, has ranked Iran 138 out of 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index.

Iran’s other low global economic rankings include 155 out of 180 nations in the Economic Freedom Index of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy institute, and 128 out of 190 governments in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index.

The World Bank’s new report also said Iran’s year-on-year inflation rate has risen sharply from about 10% in the middle of last year to about 52% in April. It said the depreciation of Iran’s rial since May 2018, when the U.S. announced it would re-impose sanctions on Iran, has contributed to the rising inflation. The rial’s slump versus the dollar in Iran’s unofficial currency market has made dollar-denominated imports more expensive for Iranians.

Clawson said Iran’s inflation is high primarily because it is relying on printing money to finance its spending. “The Iranian government is not bringing in enough revenue to pay for its expenses, so it is borrowing money from the banking system to cover the difference, and that is driving inflation,” he said.

Hanke, who says he is the only economist outside Iran to measure its inflation with high frequency, told VOA Persian that he calculated Iran’s actual inflation rate to be 113% on Wednesday, much higher than the World Bank’s latest reading.

The World Bank’s projection of a 4.5% contraction in Iran’s GDP this year is not as bad as the 6% contraction predicted by the International Monetary Fund, another global lending agency, in its latest report from April. The World Bank also said it expects economic growth in Iran to return next year “as the impact of U.S. sanctions tapers off and as inflation stabilizes.” It projected a 0.9% rise in Iran’s GDP for 2020.

Hanke declined to make his own predictions for Iran’s economic performance, saying any forecasts for a nation such as Iran are problematic because they rely on guesswork.

Amazon Says Drones Will Be Making Deliveries In Months

Amazon said Wednesday that it plans to use self-driving drones to deliver packages to shoppers’ home in the coming months 

The online shopping giant did not give exact timing or say where the drones will be making deliveries.

Amazon said its new drones use computer vision and machine learning to detect and avoid people or laundry clotheslines in backyards when landing.  

“From paragliders to power lines to a corgi in the backyard, the brain of the drone has safety covered,” said Jeff Wilke, who oversees Amazon’s retail business. 

Wilke said the drones are fully electric, can fly up to 15 miles and carry packages that weigh up to five pounds. 

Amazon has been working on drone delivery for years. Back in December 2013, Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos told the “60 Minutes” news show that drones would be flying to customer’s homes within five years. But that deadline passed due to regulatory hurdles.  

The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates commercial use of drones in the U.S., did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. 

In April, a subsidiary of search giant Google won approval from the FAA to make drone deliveries in parts of Virginia. 

IMF Warns US-China Trade War Could Cut Global Economic Growth

The trade war between the United States and China could cut world economic growth next year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned Wednesday.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to tax all trade between the two countries would shrink the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by one-half of one percent.

This amounts to a loss of about $455 billion, larger than the size of South Africa’s economy,” Lagarde said in a briefing note for the Group of Twenty (G-20), a collection of the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies.

“These are self-inflicted wounds that must be avoided… by removing the recently implemented traded barriers and by avoiding further barriers in whatever form,” she added.

The warning came as G-20 finance ministers and central bankers prepare to meet in Japan this weekend. They will gather just weeks after U.S.-China talks collapsed amid claims of broken promises and another round of punishing tariffs.

Lagarde urged governments to adopt policies that support economic growth to avoid a global economic decline. “Should growth substantially disappoint,” she wrote, policymakers must do more, including “making use of conventional and unconventional monetary policy and fiscal stimulus.”

The GDP is a monetary measure of the value of all goods and services produced in an economy during a specific period of time.

How Vietnam Will Avoid Currency ‘Manipulator’ Label, Save its Economy

Vietnam is likely to make concessions to the United States so it can escape a U.S. watch list of possible currency manipulators and head off a hit to its fast-growing economy led by exchange rate-sensitive exports, analysts who follow the country say.

The Southeast Asian country, they forecast, will probably talk to the U.S. side over the next six to nine months, consider approving fewer changes in its foreign exchange rate and accept more high-value American imports.

Those measures would help Vietnam get off the U.S. Treasury’s list of nine countries that Washington will examine further for whether those states are currency “manipulators.” Manipulation implies deliberate state-driven currency rate changes that favor a country’s own exporters and make trade more costly for importers. The U.S. list released in late May added Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.

The policy changes might place a speed bump in the economy, which has grown around 6% every year since 2012, but a “manipulator” label could lead to tariffs on Vietnamese goods shipped to the United States and choke economic expansion.

“I think they’ll definitely (take action), because they’re extremely worried about this matter, so they’ll carry out some necessary communications and make some adjustments,” said Tai Wan-ping, Southeast Asia-specialized international business professor at Cheng Shiu University in Taiwan. “If they keep going, to be on this list is disadvantageous for Vietnam.”

Exports and the local currency

Vietnam, a growing manufacturing powerhouse that reels in factory investors from around Asia for its lost costs, posted a $39.5 billion surplus in trade with the United States last year and a $13.5 billion surplus in the first quarter this year.

The same country also adjusts its dong currency exchange rate within a band but trending toward weakness versus the U.S. dollar. That trend favors exporters, a majority of the $238 billion Vietnamese economy.

“The reality is, it’s what we call in economics a dirty float currency. It’s not grossly manipulated — it basically reflects market rate for the dong,” said Adam McCarty, chief economist with Mekong Economics in Hanoi. 

“But it’s sort of controlled to stop big fluctuations, so that the change in the exchange rate month to month is rather small, but it’s always been slowly and steadily in the direction of depreciation of the Vietnamese dong,” McCarty said.

​Inflows of “hot money” into Vietnam, which could hurt exports eventually, sometimes require the country to adjust its foreign exchange rate, Tai said.

Measures to get off the list

Vietnam’s limiting of any further fluctuations would put the U.S. government more at ease, said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at the market research firm IHS Markit.

“The U.S. Treasury did say that Vietnam should reduce its intervention in the exchange rate and let the currency move in line with economic fundamentals,” Biswas said. “If you’re not intervening in your currency, that automatically reduces the risk of being named a currency manipulator.”

But Vietnamese net purchases of foreign currency last year came to just 1.7% of GDP, below the 2% that Washington uses to define “persistent one-sided intervention in the foreign exchange market,” Hanoi-based SSI Research said in a note Monday. Governments can adjust exchange rates by buying or selling foreign currency.

Vietnam, where many of the top companies are state-invested, could reduce the trade balance by buying more “capital intensive equipment” and aerospace goods such as aircraft from the United States, Biswas said.

India left the U.S. list in May after easing a trade surplus, though China – in the thick of a trade dispute with Washington – was kept on it.

There are few other “policy levers” Vietnam can use to answer the U.S. Treasury concerns, said Gene Fang, an associate managing director with Moody’s Investors Service in Singapore.

Negotiations with Washington

Vietnam will probably remain on the U.S. list over at least the next half a year, when the document is due for an update, analysts believe. The two sides are likely to discuss the currency rate and the trade imbalance as Vietnam deliberates its response measures, they say.

Eventually the U.S. government could seek negotiations with Vietnam and place tariffs on Vietnamese exports if it sees fit, Fang said.

“I guess one of the things we could see as a result would be that the U.S. places higher tariffs on Vietnamese exports to the U.S., and that would be certainly negative from a growth perspective,” he said.

US Report Urges Steps to Reduce Reliance on Foreign Critical Minerals

The U.S. Commerce Department on Tuesday recommended urgent steps to boost domestic production of rare earths and other critical minerals, warning that a halt in Chinese or Russian exports could cause “significant shocks” in global supply chains.

The report includes 61 specific recommendations — including low-interest loans and “Buy American” requirements for defense companies — to boost domestic production of minerals essential for the manufacture of mobile phones and a host of other consumer goods, as well as fighter jets.

It also called for closer cooperation with allies such as Japan, Australia and the European Union, and directed reviews of government permitting processes to speed up domestic mining.

U.S. reliance on foreign minerals has worried U.S. officials since 2010, when China embargoed exports of so-called rare earth minerals to Japan during a diplomatic row. The issue took on new urgency in recent weeks after Chinese officials suggested rare earths and other critical minerals could be used as leverage in the trade war between the world’s largest economic powers.

“The United States is heavily dependent on foreign sources of critical minerals and on foreign supply chains resulting in the potential for strategic vulnerabilities to both our economy and military,” the Commerce Department said in a long-awaited report outlining a new federal strategy on critical minerals.

“If China or Russia were to stop exports to the United States and its allies for a prolonged period — similar to China’s rare earths embargo in 2010 — an extended supply disruption could cause significant shocks throughout U.S. and foreign critical mineral supply chains,” the report said.

Boosting trade with other countries could reduce U.S. reliance on sources of critical minerals that could be disrupted, and robust enforcement of U.S. trade laws and international agreements could also help address adverse impacts of market-distorting foreign trade measures, it said.

The report was cheered by U.S. miners, including MP Materials, which owns California’s Mountain Pass mine, the only current rare earths facility in the United States.

For now, it must pay a 25 percent tariff to ship its rare earths to China for processing, collateral damage in the U.S.-China trade war.

“We welcome this report and hope that the Commerce Department’s ‘Call to Action’ results in some real action from Washington,” said James Litinsky, co-chairman of MP Materials.

Recommendations

The report called for a combination of short-term measures, such as stockpiling, and longer-term moves to catalyze exploration, design and construction of new mines, as well as re-establishing domestic downstream manufacturing supply chains.

It recommended several measures for the Interior Department and its subagencies, including the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, to remove obstacles to critical mineral development and make it easier to get permits.

It said the BLM and Forest Service should review all areas that are currently “withdrawn” — or protected — from development and assess whether those restrictions should be lifted or reduced to allow for critical mineral development.

Commerce also proposed altering how the Interior Department and its agencies review mining projects under the bedrock National Environmental Policy Act, urging expedited environmental studies and identifying minerals which can be excluded from environmental reviews.

The report drew immediate fire from Democrats who said the new strategy would harm the environment and amounted to fresh concessions to multinational corporations.

“This administration has set shameful new records for industry giveaways, and this is one of the worst,” said Raul Grijalva, Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee.

The industry applauded the report, however.

“The steps outlined in this report will go a long way in unlocking the value of all our domestic mineral resources while continuing strict environmental protections,” said Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association.

The Buy American recommendation, which would require defense weapons and related products be built with domestically-sourced rare earths, could make it easier to secure financing if investors knew there would be a guaranteed revenue source for new projects, prospective U.S. rare earth miners said.

“I would encourage the federal government to move as quickly as possible, and ‘buy American’ is one way to do that,” said Anthony Marchese, chairman of Texas Mineral Resources Corp, which is seeking $300 million to develop the Round Top rare earth deposit in Texas.