Türkiye's Potential Role in Rare Earth Geopolitics

In recent years, Western countries have sought to diversify their rare earth imports to reduce their dependence on China and Russia, with the United Kingdom, the United States, and other Western allies announcing last month the Mineral Security Partnership, an initiative to make the supply chain more "secure”. In the context of diversification efforts, Türkiye's newly discovered large reserves of rare earth elements (REEs) could play an important role for the West.

In recent years, the importance of critical materials that play a key role in the manufacturing of various technologies has grown. In this context, REE materials are critical to the long-term viability of cutting-edge technologies, as they are essential in industries ranging from aerospace to space exploration to defense to biomedicine.

Rare earth elements are of strategic significance for the economic image

(Photo Source: Al-Estiklal Newspaper)

The world's largest REE deposits are in China, while the world's fourth largest deposit is in Russia. These two countries account for 57% of the world's known reserves. Notably, China plays a key role in the industry. in 2020, China accounts for 58% of world production and 85% of the world's refined REEs.

Türkiye has discovered the second largest reserve of REEs in the world in Beylikova district of Eskişehir in Central Anatolia. The reserve, estimated at 694 million tons, is now second only to China, which has the largest field of REEs with 800 million tons of reserves. The national mining company Eti Maden announced that in the first phase, the pilot plant will process 1,200 tons of ore per year. This figure may reach 570,000 tons, and in the near future, there will be a significant investment in larger industrial facilities. Of the 17 known rare elements, 10 can be produced in Türkiye.

The newly discovered reserves of rare earth materials will have political, economic, and security implications for Turkey and its cooperation with Western countries. On the political side, the newly discovered reserves increase Turkey's strategic importance and strengthen its position vis-à-vis the EU and the US. Second, cooperation with Turkey can help EU countries diversify their imports and reduce their dependence on Russia and China. Finally, these collaborations can promote interdependence, minimize the perception of threats, and create more productive conditions for cooperation in the REEs sector.

Processing rare earth elements image

(Photo Source: Rane Network)

In addition to political opportunities, Türkiye has economic opportunities and cooperation with Western countries. First, the development of the rare earth industry could contribute to Turkey's economic diversification policy and lead to the specialization of the extraction and procession of REE materials. Secondly, improving the REEs sector could have spillover effects, facilitating the attraction of new investments and creating jobs in the country.

Ankara's REE reserves are close to the surface, which means that the material will be easier and cheaper to extract. With a new investment approach, EU countries could help Türkiye build technical capacity for extraction in the short term and improve processing technology in the medium term. As a result, they can reduce their economic vulnerability to China, enjoy geographical proximity to the country, diversify their imports, and protect their technological and financial stability in the medium to long term.

In addition, with the cooperation of the EU and the US, Türkiye could acquire technologies to reduce the environmental damage caused by REE mining. In this way, REEs can be properly managed and recycled and new production cycles introduced without the need for new soil extraction. In general, cooperation between the EU and Turkey in REE materials can enhance economic interdependence, create mutually beneficial relationships and help reduce the impact of any external economic and political-economic shocks in the medium to long term.

Finally, the newly discovered rare earth materials could play an important role in the defense sector of Turkey and the West, and in addition, by cooperating with Turkey, the EU and the US could secure the supply chain and guarantee the relative stability of their defense sectors.