The US Congress and the European Parliament could hold parallel hearings and produce a joint communiqué on crucial raw materials as part of efforts to cooperate on areas of strategic interest, according to a senior Washington policymaker.
Congressman Bart Gordon, chairman of the Committee on Science & Technology of the House of Representatives, wants parliamentarians on both sides of the Atlantic to identify common ground on rare earth minerals, which are vital for green technologies.
Gordon told the European Parliament's committee on industry, research and energy (ITRE) that China's near-monopoly on key raw materials is "very troubling" and could hamper advances in alternative energy and telecoms products.
He proposed holding parallel hearings in Brussels and Washington, which could lead to information sharing on mineral supplies and a united EU-US approach to the issue at the World Trade Organisation.
American and European researchers could also collaborate more closely to find substitute minerals, improve recycling and ensure natural resources are used efficiently.
The US is currently revising its national materials policy and may be willing to add amendments to the US Rare Earths Bill, which would formalise the need for international cooperation, provided that the EU responds positively to Gordon's overtures.
Rare earths could be 'template' for cooperation
Collaboration on rare earths could be a template for further cooperation in areas such as intellectual property, cyber security, clean water, energy security and carbon capture and storage (CCS), according to the congressman.
"We have a long-standing bond, cultural similarities and are facing common challenges. When friends work together they strengthen one another," said Gordon.
He added that the chairpersons of other House of Representatives committees would be willing to look at how they can work more closely with MEPs, particularly in light of the new powers conferred on the European Parliament by the Lisbon Treaty.
The US Congress has some experience of joint initiatives on strategic technical issues having recently completed parallel hearings on geo-engineering with a UK parliamentary committee.
Gordon said some of his staff would stay on in Brussels for a few days to help kick-start the proposed cooperation on rare earths.
Closer ties on the 'new nanotechnology'
Gordon, a 13-term congressman from Tennessee, said another area ripe for cooperation is the emerging field of synthetic biology. This, he said, promises breakthroughs in medicine and alternative energy.
He compared the potential of synthetic biology to nanotechnology but warned that transparency will be key to earning public support for advances in this area.
Gordon said the EU and US must work together to develop a body of research on the safety of the manufacture and use these new technologies. He said better communication can help avoid a re-run of the problems with genetically-modified foods, where American and European consumers hold fundamentally different views.
"In fact, if we have started talking about SWIFT earlier we might not have got to where we are today," Gordon added, referring to the row over exchange of personal data.
EU-US 'science diplomacy'
Links between the EU and US on technology issues have been deepening since last year, with MEPs noting a "change in tone" from the Obama administration.
In October, Obama's chief science advisor John Holdren will visit Brussels for the Caneus EU event, where he will discuss cooperation in the area of aerospace and the EU framework programme. He is also expected to meet with MEPs.
Separately, there are also talks between parliamentarians on developing a common method for measuring the impact of science funding (EURACTIV 19/04/10).