02/17/2011, 00.00
CHINA
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China tightens controls on rare earth exports

A new industry body will be set up to enforce strict government quotas. The goal is to stop widespread illegal exports. These minerals are essential for high-tech products and military hardware.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) –China plans to limit drastically the production and the export of rare earths. Beijing says the purpose is to improve industrial control, but experts believe it is actually trying to increase its near market monopoly.

A new industry body to control production and destination is expected for May. The goal is to prevent illegal mining by criminal groups, a problem that developed after Beijing recently imposed restrictions. Initially, the authorities ignored this trade, but now they plan to impose strict export controls.

Rare earths are a group of 17 elements, essential for high-tech products like mobile phones, flat TV screens, wind-powered turbines and lasers as well as military hardware.

China controls 95 per cent of production, essentially in Inner Mongolia.

Since 2009, Beijing has tried to cut back exports, ostensibly to meet domestic needs and protect the environment from intensive mining.

In October 2010, the official China Daily reported that exports would be cut by 30 per cent. More restrictions are feared for this year.

In the past, Beijing exported rare earths at such low prices that exploration and development in other countries were discouraged.

China’s General Administration of Customs reported that the mainland's total rare-earth exports last year stood at 39,813 tonnes, down 9.3 per cent from 2009.

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