back to article EU runs to WTO again over China's mineral hoarding

The European Union has joined the United States and Japan in complaining to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over China’s continued export restrictions on a range of rare earths which are vital to the production of hi-tech kit. The EU said in a press release that despite the WTO ruling in its favour when it mounted a similar …


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  1. Dazed and Confused

    Other sources

    > The only ray of hope for these firms in the long term is that more rare earth materials are found outside the People’s Republic.

    Except of course that other sources are likely to be found in Africa, where China is pouring tons of "no strings attached aid". So it likely to be in a good position to at least influence the trade here too.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Other sources

      Australian company Lynas is set to match 40% of China's rare earth output from thei sites in Australia and Malasya. Fortunately had the good sense to reject an offer from China to buy 51% of that company.

      The deals in Africa are worrying because of other resources, such as oil, copper and iron.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Other sources

      You'd have a point, but for the fact that one of the most promising looking alternative sources is in Canada.

      Last time I looked that wasn't in Africa.

  2. Tomislav

    It is all our own fault.

    It seems like we are perfectly happy with Chinese people dieing in the mines instead of us, but when these same people decide to take advantage of having all the mines suddenly we complain.

    I believe it is not a problem of us not having these rare earths or the capability to mine them, the problem is that it is much cheaper to buy them from China compared to paying for geographical surveys, digging, paying workers, insuring them against disasters etc.

    It is a neverending circle that the greedy companies have drawn themselves into.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It is all our own fault.

      I must admit out of all the area's that could and would be perfect for autonomous robots, mining would be pretty much up there I would of thought. Robot moles shitting out extracted ore, why isn't that so? How hard is it to have something that just breaks down rocks and shifts the broken rocks back to the surface!

      As with most `rare` resources, you always find it a case that there are other deposits elsewere, but they are deemed to costly to obtain, thus when there resources of others you go sell em cheap you tight gits, we will share our piles out later, honest along with our conker collection.

      Also I'd have to question as to all these years were we send out so called `scarp` electronics to junk yards in china, must be piles of rare elements in those old rubbish dumps. Indeed I'd say that mining will eventualy get to the economics of mining old rubbish dumps on the basis that you get a good density of materials and also gain some cheap restored land after you have deplated the resources.

      But seriously - mining robots/hamsters - invent now please. Not asking em to defuse a bomb or go fast, just slow and surely be enough to bash some rocks and can have other robots that pick up rocks and haul and dump onto the surface. you can then have humans doing suface mining from the piles all nice and safe and everybody happy.

      1. Debe

        Re: It is all our own fault.

        The main problem with mining is it’s pretty dangerous.

        Despite what people think human life is decidedly cheap… especially in China. Robots on the other hand are not cheap.

        If a sophisticated mining robot gets crushed under tons of rock it’s expensive and difficult to replace. A squishy human on the other hand is fairly cheap and easy to replace… especially because they self replicate given enough time.

        It’s not fair, but as long as there is cheap labour on hand the mining company isn’t going to bother changing its methods.

      2. Tim Worstal

        Re: It is all our own fault.

        Well, yes, except RE mining in China is pretty much all open cast mining which isn't all that dangerous. It's the separation of the REs that is the polluting and dangerous bit.

        Also, rare earths aren't rare (nor earths). Easy enough to find deposits and sources. Just takes a little time that's all. And why should anyone bother until about 3 years ago,m when China would sell us all we wanted at prices we were happy to pay?

  3. GuyC

    That's Rich

    The merkins running to the WTO because someone else isn'y playing by the rules, pot meet kettle can you say "offshore gambling"?

  4. Barrie Shepherd

    So a country hoards it's natural resources (which we must assume are it's sovereign possessions) to maintain high prices and it upset the EU / US and GB - only because they want access to the resources.

    But it is OK for other countries to "control" the flow of their natural resources to keep the price high, diamonds, gold, for example.

    I don't like what China are doing but I can't see an argument that justifies the "we can force you to sell us your goods" stance.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The difference is China's status on the WTO, which allows China to export so much into other WTO countries with little to no tariffs.

      Such power also carries the condition that you don't control the flow of resources, and the WTO framework lets other countries complain when you do.

  5. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Big Brother

    "fair access for our businesses"

    Codespeak for "we are no longer the mightiest bully and we don't like it one bit"?

  6. FordPrefect

    Spot on! Commercial greed is to blame. There were and are other commercially viable sources of rare earth's but the rest of the world foolishly went for the lowest price allowing China to corner the market in materials that are nearly as much of a stranglehold on the economy as oil is. Lessons should be learned and part of that should be never ever allow one country to control the supply of a material. Especially a country like China which has very quietly grabbed a stranglehold on many different economic areas. It has also grabbed a huge pile of US government debt as well...

  7. bonkers

    It's called "a position"

    So dogged are we in our free-market model, that no-one considered the intrinsic worth of these dull silver-grey metals. It was assumed that the price was fair, and that the mines were not worth buying at the prices they were asking. The truth is that half the uses of these bizarre f-orbital elements are yet to be invented/discovered, or indeed may not be there to be found. China has taken a bit of a punt on half of their stocks, consider just two elements, Europium and Erbium.

    Europium is the only stuff in the universe that makes a nice deep red phosphor for TV tubes, so was looking valuable when they bought it. It's worthless now. The CRT is dead.

    Erbium did nothing, like the F7 key, till it was discovered that it offers noiseless laser amplification of infra-red optical fibre signals, using only green LED light as its energy source. This is a huge boon for the undersea and land cable business, and it doesn't care how many channels and at what Gb/s speed it all goes at.

    So, win some lose some, its called "a position", having a considered opinion that is away from where the market is. Though for us, and the USA, its an uncomfortable bendy-over position.

  8. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    China vs Environmentalists...

    There's actually lots of 'rare earth' minerals around - pretty much everywhere.

    However, they are not in high concentrations, and need a lot of processing on the mining site. This is 'bad for the environment'(TM). Greenpeace would never let it happen in any western-controlled country.

    So the Chinese have an effective monopoly - because our environmentalists are hamstringing our industrialists...

  9. Martin Budden Silver badge

    China should at least let the EU have some cheap europium - you know, cos of the name.

    My coat is the one that isn't rare and isn't earth (but if you want my coat you'll have to pay me a fortune for it).

    1. Tim Worstal


      "China should at least let the EU have some cheap europium - you know, cos of the name."

      They should let us have some cheap because we need to print more bank notes. Because, yes, you guessed it, the phosphors on the euro notes are europium based.

      No, not by chance either, they boast about how clever they were to design them that way,

  10. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Big Brother

    "The China-US rare earth games"

    A rather interesting writeup around here:

    In the requisite ironic counterpoint that seems to accompany almost every China sanctions story, a dismantling of Chinese duty and quota barriers would push down global prices and, perhaps, strangle these Western rare earth investments in the cradle.

    As the Chinese government pointed out, only half of its 2011 rare earth export quota was subscribed, implying that there are limits to the pent-up global demand that can keep prices up to a level healthy to Molycorp and Lynas' investments.

    A study by Technology Metals concluded that every rare earth element will pass into permanent surplus by 2017 or earlier.

    The key issue is not access to the raw material, or even processing technology. The heart of the rare earth kerfuffle lies in Japan and its efforts to maintain its economic and diplomatic relevance as it is overshadowed by China as Asia's leading exporter and growth engine.

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