Japanese foreign minister Seiji Maehara, talking in Canberra to Australian foreign minister Kevin Rudd, began preliminary negotiation about a future free trade pact. Rudd told reporters, says the Taipei Times, that the “Australian government understands the significance of rare earths globally. Australia stands ready to be a long term, secure, reliable supplier of rare earths to the Japanese economy.”
The announcement will serve as a wake-up call to China. It was recently found that rare earth reserves are not the problem, but mining for them is costly and a long term game. China will shortly resume trade with Japan and allow exports to clear customs by this weekend, according to Japanese daily Nikkei.
Australia is another country to pledge allegiance with Japan, one of the largest users of rare earths in the world. Rare earths are required for manufacturing all manner of electronics components, from hard disk drives through to cars. Mongolia signed up with Japan recently while Vietnam has also put its signature on a cooperation deal.
On his visit, says the Taipei Times, Maehara confirmed that Japan will need to focus on ensuring it has enough rare earths to go around, and access will be a top priority for his country’s economy.
The problem is, China began the long game many years ago and set up mines accordingly.
It will be 2013, at least, before Australia’s first mine is completed. The next should begin in 2014.
It’s good news for the West and specifically the EU which is nervous about China’s current grip on trade. In the meantime the European Union has been urging China to allow for further rare earth exports. Earlier this month it decided to limit exports in order to reserve its own quickly depleting stockpiles – which will in turn result in price spikes for technology materials.
South Korea has also recently discovered stock. A modern day gold rush started as the country plans to re-open an ore mine in Yangyang, Gangwon Province. Full commercial mining there is expected to begin in 2012. Until then, the world will have to look to China.