Talks start soon on rare earths WTO row

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am
 

Negotiations on resolving the rare earths trade dispute between China and the US, EU and Japan would start soon, the Ministry of Commerce said yesterday.

During a press conference in Beijing yesterday, spokesman Shen Danyang reiterated that Beijing's control over the rare earth industry's output and export was aimed at conserving resources and protecting the environment, and that its policies were in line with World Trade Organisation rules.

The United States, European Union and Japan on Tuesday each filed a complaint to the global trade rules body, alleging that Beijing's export restrictions on rare earth minerals amounted to unfair trade practices and should be removed.

'China's raw material export management policy is aimed at conserving resources and the environment,' Shen said. 'China has no intention to restrict free trade, and has no plan to protect domestic industries by distorting trading patterns.'

Mainland China supplies more than 90 per cent of the world's consumption of rare earth products, and its reserves account for 36.4 per cent of the global total, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Beijing had striven to maintain rare earth export volume despite rising pressure on the environment, the ministry said on Tuesday, adding that it wants other nations to chip in by developing their own resources.

The mainland supplied low-cost rare earths for decades until 2008, when it began imposing export quotas, triggering sharp surges in prices of the materials that are abundant in the earth's crust, but are rarely found in concentrated and economically exploitable forms.

They are used in relatively small amounts in products including mobile phones, hybrid car batteries, wind turbines and flat-screen televisions, which are seeing fast growth in demand. Price rises of up to 14-fold in the first seven months of last year have eaten into profit margins of these products' manufacturers.

Mainland rare earth exports peaked in 2006 at 57,400 tonnes, and fell to 39,813 tonnes in 2010. Plus 10,000 to 20,000 tonnes are estimated to have been smuggled out annually.

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