The World Trade Organization announced it had set up a panel to probe the rare-earth export policies in China.
The rare-earths are in fact 17 metallic minerals very important for the production of sensitive cutting-edge technologies such as missile defense systems, wind turbines, car batteries and smart phones. Following requests by the U.S., European Union and Japan made in March, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body took the decision to probe China’s export duties, quotas and other restrictions on rare earths, an two other minor metals, molybdenum and tungsten.
After China introduced quota restrictions on exports, global suppliers have made efforts to reduce their dependence on the Chinese supply. The American Molycorp has started production at its Californis mine, Avalon Rare Metals has begun developing a deposit in Canada’s Northwest Territories, Japan has an alliance with Quebec for a rare-earth development project, and Australian Lynas plans to start production at its mine in Mount Weld facility and reopen a mine in South Africa.
The Lynas project and Molycorp’s Mountain Pass could produce together 60,000 tons annually, accounting for almost a third of world demand. During the past year, as demand continued to decrease China raised the price for the rare-earths.