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China faces rare-earth legal challenge

China – The EU, USA and Japan have filed a legal challenge opposing Chinese restrictions on the export of 17 types of rare-earth metals as well as molybdenum and tungsten – some of which are widely used in green technologies such as wind turbines. According to EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, China has continued to restrict its rare-earth exports despite a World Trade Organization ruling last year.

Speaking on this issue at a Rose Garden press conference on March 13, US President Barack Obama explained: ‘If China would simply let the market work on its own, we would have no objections. But their policies currently are preventing that from happening. We’ve got to take control of our energy future and we cannot let that energy industry take root in some other country because they were allowed to break the rules.’

China, however, sees the situation very differently, stating that the recent restrictions are intended to preserve the country’s natural resources, control illegal mining and protect the environment. ‘The fact that China has about a third of the world’s rare-earth resources and produces 90% of supply isn’t sustainable,’ explains a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman.

The European Commission is not persuaded by this argument, claiming that export restrictions are not the right way to proceed. Instead, it insists that alternative measures – focusing on environmental protection – would be far more effective.

With China facing the threat of sanctions, Industry Minister Miao Wei has told state media agency Xinhua ‘we are actively preparing to defend ourselves’.

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