By Alan Beattie and Joshua Chaffin, March 13, 2012 — The US, European Union and Japan have joined forces to launch a World Trade Organisation case aiming to break China’s control over the global supply of “rare earth” minerals essential to much high-technology manufacturing.
The unusual joint action between the rich world’s leading economic powers, announced on Tuesday by President Barack Obama, underlines the political as well as commercial imperative for western leaders to tackle Beijing over its trade practices. . . .
China produces more than 90 per cent of the world’s rare earths – 17 elements used to manufacture a wide range of items, from weapons to BlackBerrys. Its dominance of global supplies caused alarm in 2010 when it temporarily halted exports to Japan after a diplomatic dispute.
Export restrictions by commodity producers, which critics charge are used unfairly to divert cheap inputs to domestic manufacturers, are among the most contentious issues in world trade. In January, the EU and US won final victory in a WTO case against China’s limits on exports of other industrial raw materials – a decision that laid the ground for the rare earths litigation.
China now has 60 days to negotiate a deal over rare earths before the EU, US and Japan can ask the WTO to form a judicial panel to rule on the case, potentially leading to trade sanctions. . . .
See also, for an excellent discussion about the pending dispute, China’s Economy – Rare Earths and What they Don’t Tell You…, by Shards of China:
[N]ow that China has worked this out, and no longer needs to depend on absolute destruction of the environment for cash – it’s not playing the game anymore. The Americans are of course livid about this. They closed their mines on the understanding that the Chinese would continue to take their hit for them – and now that rare earths are an essential part of high-tech industry, it’s going to take a few years to reopen them.
Rather than viewing this as a tax on their exploitation of the Chinese, they’re suing instead. And the Europeans and Japanese can’t be smug about this – because they’ve joined in too. . . .