Other nations need to help rare-earth supply: Experts

13:47, October 25, 2010      

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China is implicitly calling other nations in the world to help supply rare earths, so that its deposit will not be depleted soon, experts say.

China last year produced nearly 97 per cent of the global supply of rare earths -- a group of 17 elements used in high-tech products ranging from flat-screen televisions to iPods to hybrid cars -- but is home to just a third of the reserves.

The United States and Australia have large reserves, about 15 and 5 percent of the world's total reserves respectively, but stopped mining them because of Chinese competition in the past years and domestic environmental pollution, experts say.

"China is saying they're not interested in supplying the world's rare earths indefinitely," Geoff Bedford, vice-president of Canada-listed Neo Technologies -- a rare earth processor operating in China -- told AFP at an industry conference in Xiamen, Fujian Province.

"So they're showing signs of cutting back and they're expecting other mines to come in."

The world's top consumers of rare earths, such as Japan, have rung the alarm bell in recent weeks, alleging China of disrupting exports of the vital minerals -- a charge Beijing has denied.

Japan and Vietnam are now set to sign a deal on joint development of rare earth reserves in Vietnam. Germany meanwhile said it will work with Tokyo to stimulate rare earths production in other nations including Mongolia, Namibia and the United States, The AFP reported Monday.

A commonly-held view among officials in Beijing is that rare earth policies in the past were like "selling gold to foreigners at the price of Chinese radishes", Damien Ma, an analyst at Eurasia Group, wrote in a research note, according to The AFP report.

Since 2006, China has cut export quotas on rare earths by five to 10 percent a year. Production has also been slashed amid concerns that Chinese supplies could run out in 15 years.

China's commerce ministry has said it reserves the right to reduce rare earths export shipments to "protect exhaustible resources and sustainable development" of the industry.

"Over the past few years, rare earths exploration has been very messy and the environment has been damaged," Jiang Fan, vice director-general of the ministry's foreign trade department, told The AFP.

"The decrease of rare earths is not good for the world. I hope other countries can understand what China is doing," the official said.

By Jimmy, People's Daily Online


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