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Darwin Dialogue on Critical Minerals and Rare Earth Elements

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Darwin Dialogue is a track 1.5 initiative that will bring together leaders and key players from Australia, Japan and the United States to discuss critical mineral production and supply-chain security. The inaugural Darwin Dialogue will be held on 12–14 April 2023 in Darwin.

The dialogue will provide a unique opportunity for stakeholders to discuss the key issues surrounding critical minerals and rare-earth elements and kickstart the process for further action in advancing northern Australia’s role in global production of critical minerals and rare earths.


What are critical minerals and rare earths?

Critical minerals and rare-earth elements (REEs) are fundamental ingredients in the production of civilian and military technology. 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, it is challenging to find them in sufficient quantities to be economically extracted. 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 a long value chain featuring various metallurgical processes before these materials can be used in the production of high-tech machinery such as wind turbines, MRI machines and missile guidance systems.

Historically, the global north has underinvested in critical minerals and REEs. Over the past few years, China has leveraged this underinvestment as an opportunity to dominate the global marketplace for most of these materials.

Australia possesses a unique opportunity to become a major global player in critical minerals and REEs by capitalising on their abundance in northern Australia.


Why a trilateral dialogue?

The opportunity to capitalise on northern Australia’s critical-mineral and rare-earth resources is of global geopolitical significance and will require substantial foreign investment. Japanese investment in the Australian-owned company Lynas Rare Earths has already transformed the industry. Continued investment from likeminded foreign partners will be critical to achieving greater resilience in the global market.

Critical mineral and REE production in northern Australia is a significant economic opportunity for the region and for Australia's economic and strategic partners to develop supply-chain resilience. The capacity of Australia and its allies to continue developing sophisticated military technologies is fundamental to retaining a strategic and military advantage, and continuing to do so depends on access to critical minerals and REEs.

The Darwin Dialogue brings 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 on the subject, develop relationships and initiate action.


Dialogue schedule

The 2023 Darwin Dialogue will be held in Darwin, Northern Territory, from Wednesday 12 April through Friday 14 April and will feature multiple sessions focusing on the important issues surrounding critical minerals and REEs.

The dialogue is being held with the support of the US and Japanese embassies in Australia and their respective ambassadors, Her Excellency Caroline Kennedy and His Excellency Shingo Yamagami. It will feature keynote speeches from Justin Bassi, Executive Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and the Honourable Madeleine King MP, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia.

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 Publications