EU will urge China to free rare earth restrictions

The European Union (EU) will urge China to allow more exports of rare earths at a meeting with Chinese officials this week, according to an EU diplomat.

Countries across the world have been in uproar over China’s decision to limit the exportation of its rare earths, with the country having a near monopoly over the production of the materials used to manufacture a wide range of technology.

The diplomat will discuss worries that have crept up since China decided to lower production, under the pretence of reducing emissions, and EU officials have been monitoring the situation closely.

“We shall be stressing very clearly our concerns on this issue and stressing the importance of keeping that quota open and discussing with the Chinese authorities what their plans are for 2011,” said Matthew Baldwin, the European Commission’s director for market access and industry.

Baldwin told reporters in Beijing that he would meet counterparts at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce to discuss the supply of materials used to produce goods such as hybrid cars and LCD screens.

China boosted metals prices in July by announcing it would cut export quotas for rare earth minerals by 72 percent for the second half of 2010, according to Reuters.

Baldwin noted however that China should not be chastised too quickly for refusing to share precious resources.

“While we are looking with concern at the amounts of rare earths that are issued this year by China, and we’re concerned that they are being reduced in quantities, this is not an issue that is completely China-specific,” Baldwin said. “It’s by no means China’s fault that it has 97 percent of the supply, when it only has 37 percent of the reserves,” he said.

“The international community also needs to look at itself in the mirror and look at what we can do by way of investing more in these important commodities in places such as the United States and Australia.”

Baldwin said it would be important to increase foreign direct investment to China, which currently stands at $71.78 billion, about two percent of the EU’s FDI.

“That’s a percentage we would indeed like to see increase. A number of people have commented to the effect that often the business environment in China is not as easy as it could be,” he added.

One positive note is that China has recently appeared to soften its restrictions, pledging to speed up exports following a spat with Japan, AFP wrote this week.

“Shipments of rare earths started the week before last week at a Tianjing port,” an official of Daido Electronics, a manufacturer and trader of rare earth-related products, told AFP.