Queensland warned: Coal getting in the way of better exports

QUEENSLAND is poised to be able take advantage of China-US trade tensions by exporting rare metals used in phones, batteries and medical technology to North America.

A new report, to be released this week, spruiks Australia could act to become the major exporter of the "critical minerals" to the US, as it seeks to diversify from its main supplier China as their relationship worsens.

But it comes amid warnings the past two years of a coal boom are expected to shift into reverse, which could put coal jobs at risk.

The Critical Minerals Supply Chain in the United States report stated that Washington was acting to stop its rare earth dependence on China, from where it has sourced up to 80 per cent of its supply.

"This has opened a new opportunity for Australian companies to supply a growing US specialist manufacturing industry with the required raw or semi-processed materials," the report states.

The US currently imports about $160 million of critical minerals each year.

While the US has named Australia as a potential supplier, it is also sounding out other countries creating a "competition to be preferred supplier of critical minerals".

Key minerals sought by the US, including cobalt, zinc, nickel and tungsten, can be found in deposits in Queensland.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan said as the second-largest producer of rare-earth elements, Australia was well placed to cash in.

"Our political stability, strong environmental and safety regulations and existing expertise in the resources sector adds to our appeal as a partner in the global supply chain of rare-earth elements," he said.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan says Australia is well-placed to become a major supplier of critical minerals to the US. Picture: Kym Smith
Resources Minister Matt Canavan says Australia is well-placed to become a major supplier of critical minerals to the US. Picture: Kym Smith

But the Resources and Energy quarterly report warned that while coal prices and exports had increased since 2016, they were now to fall until at least 2021.

It noted imports of thermal coal from most developed countries were declining as foreign governments begin to phase out coal-fired power.

Growth in demand from India will help Australia. But China, which bought $9.8 billion worth of Queensland coal last year, is expected to have a sharp drop off in demand for coal for the rest of this year.

Senator Canavan said there would still be overall growth in demand in the Asia Pacific region.

"No one can make a perfect prediction about these things. The long-term trends are positive," he said.