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Different Shades of Sand

Darwin Dialogue on Critical Minerals and Rare Earth Elements

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Darwin Dialogue is an exclusive track 1.5 initiative, held under Chatham House rules, that will bring together leaders and key players from Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States to discuss critical mineral production, supply-chain resilience, and economic security.

ASPI will convene the second annual Darwin Dialogue in April 2024 in Darwin.

The Darwin Dialogue 2024 will be a mini-lateral and bilateral cooperation forum on critical minerals and rare earths space. It is a unique opportunity for stakeholders to discuss the key issues surrounding critical minerals and rare-earth elements and collaboratively advance practical solutions.

What are critical minerals and rare earths?

Critical minerals and rare-earth elements (REEs) are fundamental ingredients in civilian and military technology production. Critical mineral identification is not globally standardised, but the term principally includes metallic or non-metallic elements essential for modern economies, technologies, and national security, which have a supply chain at risk of disruption.

REEs are a group of 17 metals, 15 lanthanides and two other metals with chemically similar compositions. They are vital to the manufacture of all types of modern technology products. The average iPhone, for example, contains eight rare earths, and an F-35 joint strike fighter contains hundreds of kilograms of them.

While these metals are relatively easy to find in the earth's crust, finding them in sufficient quantities to be economically extracted is challenging. For this reason, critical minerals and REEs have traditionally been considered a rarity, and access to these materials possesses significant commercial and strategic value.

Extraction from the earth is also only one part of the process. There's an extended value chain featuring various metallurgical processes before manufacturers can use these materials to produce high-tech machinery such as wind turbines, MRI machines and missile guidance systems.

Historically, the global north has underinvested in critical minerals and REEs. Their respective supply chains are consequently irresilient, overly focused on overly singular points of origin and destination.

Why a quadrilateral dialogue?

Northern Australia's critical mineral and rare-earth resources are of unique economic and global geopolitical significance and will require substantial foreign investment. The nations represented at the Darwin Dialogue 2024 are focused on practical outcomes and poised to pursue practical policy outcomes.

Examples, such as Japanese investment in the Australian-owned company Lynas Rare Earths, have already transformed the industry. Continued investment from like-minded foreign partners will be critical to achieving greater resilience in the global market, creating positive outcomes for Australia and partner nations.

Critical mineral and REE production in northern Australia is a significant regional economic opportunity. It offers the opportunity for Australia's economic and strategic partners to develop supply-chain resilience. The capacity of Australia and its allies to continue developing sophisticated consumer, energy transition, and military technologies is fundamental to achieving domestic policy objectives and retaining a strategic and military advantage.

The Darwin Dialogue continues to bring together key stakeholders to discuss, debate and ultimately define progress in this area. It presents a unique opportunity for participants to engage in open discussions, develop relationships and initiate action.

Building on the Darwin Dialogue 2023

The Darwin Dialogue 2024 builds off of the inaugural Dialogue in April 2023.

Key findings, outcomes and policy recommendations from the inaugural Darwin Dialogue 2023, published in adherence to Chatham House rules, can be found within the analytical ASPI Special Report, Developing Australia’s critical minerals and rare earths: implementing the outcomes from the 2023 Darwin Dialogue.

Dialogue schedule

The Darwin Dialogue 2024 will be held in Darwin, Northern Territory, in April 2024. It will feature multiple sessions focusing on the important issues surrounding critical minerals and REEs.

It will feature keynote speeches from Justin Bassi, Executive Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the Honourable Madeleine King MP, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, and international representatives.

Individual sessions will cover topics such as:

  • national investments and policy
  • industry perspectives on critical mineral and REE challenges
  • opportunities for strategic cooperation
  • perspectives of Australia’s overseas partners
  • the current and future state of critical mineral and REE supply and demand
  • the impact of geopolitical risk on REE and critical mineral extraction and processing

Sponsorship acknowledgement

ASPI is grateful for the support from the following sponsors of the Dialogue;

List of Darwin Dialogue 2024 Publications