China tries to calm unease over rare earths curbs

Sep 03, 2009

(AP) -- A Chinese official tried to calm unease about curbs on exports of rare earths used in clean energy products and superconductors, saying Thursday that sales will continue but must be limited to reduce damage to China's environment.

China produces nearly all the rare earths used in batteries for , mobile phones, , lightweight magnets and other high-tech products. Reports of a plan to reduce exports sparked concern about the impact on industry abroad.

Beijing will encourage sales of finished rare earths products but will limit exports of semi-finished goods, said Wang Caifeng, deputy director-general of the materials department of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Exports of raw ores already is banned, and said that will continue, Wang said at an industry conference.

Wang refused to confirm Chinese news reports that this year's exports will be cut to about 8 percent below 2008 levels and future exports will be capped at similar levels. She said a plan will be be issued later this year.

"China, as a responsible big country, will not go back and will not take the road of closing the door," Wang said.

But she said China has to limit output to protect its environment. She said production of one ton of rare earths produces 2,000 tons of mine tailings.

"China has made a big sacrifices for rare earths extraction," said Wang, who said she has spent her whole 30-year career overseeing the industry. "It has damaged our environmental resources."

Wang spoke at the Minor Metals & Rare Earths 2009 conference, cohosted by China Chamber of Commerce of Metals Minerals & Chemicals Importers & Exporters and Metal Pages Ltd., a London-based metals trading and information company.

China accounts for 95 percent of global production and about 60 percent of consumption of rare earths, which include such metals as dysprosium, terbium, thulium, lutetium and yttrium, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The United States supplied nearly all its rare earths needs from its own mines as recently as 1990, according to the USGS. But it says output plunged after the market was flooded with low-cost ore from China, which has lower labor costs and less-stringent environmental controls.

China wants to develop its industries to process rare earths and create products from them, Wang said.

China banned new wholly foreign-owned processing ventures in 2002 but some French and Japanese companies set up operations before that, Wang said. She said new foreign investors will be required to work through joint-ventures with Chinese partners.

Last year, China exported 10,000 tons of rare earths magnets worth $400 million and 34,600 tons of other rare earths products worth $500 million, according to Wang.

China used 70,000 tons of rare earths in 2008 out of reported total global consumption of 130,000 tons, Wang said. She said she believed global consumption was higher than indicated by the official statistics.

China's demand for rare earths has surged as manufacturers shifted production of mobile phones, computers and other products to Chinese factories.

The United States and European Union have objected to similar Chinese controls on exports of other industrial materials. They filed a World Trade Organization complaint in June accusing Beijing of improperly favoring its industries by limiting exports of nine materials including bauxite and coke in which it is a major supplier.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: To dam or not to dam? Pakistan experts ponder flood strategy

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Why 'Made in China' should increase our carbon footprint

Oct 19, 2007

Nearly a quarter of China's carbon emissions are created by goods manufactured and exported to Western consumers, according to research by University of Sussex climate change analysts Dr Tao Wang and Dr Jim Watson.

Production subsidies -- the secret to China's success?

Mar 19, 2008

The secret of China's exporting success may lie in unfair production subsidies, according to new research presented at the Royal Economics Society annual conference by a team from The University of Nottingham's Globalisation ...

Researchers say China's export trade impacts climate

Jul 29, 2008

Carnegie Mellon University's Christopher L. Weber argues that China's new title as the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter is at least partly due to consumption of Chinese goods in the West.

Report: China Mobile cool on 3G standard

Feb 01, 2006

China's adoption of a homegrown technical standard for third-generation (3G) wireless service might not be as done a deal as the industry had assumed.

Recommended for you

Green dream: Can UN summit revive climate issue?

Sep 20, 2014

Five years ago, the environment movement was in its heyday as politicians, actors, rock stars and protestors demanded a looming UN summit brake the juggernaut of climate change.

Rio's Olympic golf course in legal bunker

Sep 18, 2014

The return of golf to the Olympics after what will be 112 years by the time Rio hosts South America's first Games in 2016 comes amid accusations environmental laws were got round to build the facility in ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

NotAsleep
not rated yet Sep 03, 2009
I'd like to see the wording on that WTO complaint: "China is making it hard for us to take advantage of their cheap labor. Getting our economies to work on their own is sooooo tiring, make China give us stuff for free!"

Does China provide 95% of production because they actually have 95% of the resources or just because it's too expensive to do it elsewhere?
dogma
not rated yet Sep 04, 2009
I think NotAsleep WAS asleep. Your question was answered in the story!
rwinners
not rated yet Sep 11, 2009
A good thing for US miners and mine owners, I'd say. Wonder who they are....