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Australia, US leaders to discuss Pacific infrastructure, critical minerals

24th October 2023

By: Reuters

  

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SYDNEY - Australia and the United States will announce plans to cooperate on critical minerals and bolster Pacific Islands infrastructure as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visits Washington this week, a senior Biden administration official said.

Albanese's White House schedule begins Tuesday, Washington time, focused on how Australia's security alliance with the United States is broadening into an economic and technology partnership, he told reporters in Washington on Monday.

The two leaders will flesh out details of further cyber security cooperation, in addition to a $5-billion Microsoft investment in Australia, the Biden administration official said.

Several announcements, including the infrastructure project, will showcase US-Australia cooperation in the Pacific, as both leaders see it as "imperative" to focus on the Pacific Islands, even as the US manages the crisis in the Middle East, the official said.

A critical minerals task force to boost private investment in Australia's rare earths industry and reduce global reliance on China will be the centrepiece of Albanese's schedule on Tuesday. Albanese said Australia wants to work with US companies.

"We're in a strong position, as the world's largest supplier of lithium, for example, a significant supply of cobalt, vanadium, copper, nickel. The minerals that will power the globe in the 21st century are things that Australia has significant amounts of," he told reporters in Washington on Monday.

No announcements on agreements with the US Department of Defense are expected this week. Australian analysts have said that theUS auto and defence sectors are large buyers of rare earths and that a long-term sales contract could reduce investor risk in developing Australian processing.

Albanese will visit China, Australia's largest trade partner and biggest buyer of its iron ore, on November 4.

Washington this year signed a defence cooperation agreement with Papua New Guinea, north of Australia, and opened USAID offices in the region after China struck a security pact with the Solomon Islands.

Albanese and Biden will also discuss the South China Sea, where tensions between China and the Philippines are rising.

He said he would meet with US lawmakers every day he is in Washington to highlight the need for the AUKUS defence technology partnership with the United States and Britain. The partnership aims to sell Australia nuclear-powered submarines and build a new class of submarine in Australia by 2040.

The pact faces hurdles in the US Congress, and from US export controls that could slow its implementation. On Friday, the Biden administration submitted a supplementary budget request to Congress that includes measures to support US commitments under AUKUS.

Edited by Reuters

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