Preservation of rare earth is essential for future

Nov 20 2012, 00:22 IST
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SummaryThe issue of reservation and exploration of natural resources for export or domestic use has raised varying sentiments in various countries.

The issue of reservation and exploration of natural resources for export or domestic use has raised varying sentiments in various countries. Some of the recent major trade disputes relate to imposition of taxes and tariffs on export of 9 major raw materials, including rare earths by China.

The complainants being USA, EU, Japan and Mexico. The Dispute Settlement Body of WTO agreed that China has violated its commitments towards accession to WTO and must take appropriate steps to facilitate unhindered exports so that finished products using these raw materials can be produced. Earlier, Indonesia had put an embargo on the export of iron ore without further processing to be implemented from 2014. But the Chinese restriction on the export of rare earths, which has around 90% of the world reserve, has taken a curious turn.

Studies have shown that rare earth elements are used in mature markets of catalysts, glass-making, lighting, defence equipment and metallurgy to the extent of around 60% and the balance 40% is used for high growth markets in battery alloys, ceramics, permanent magnets and smartphones.

Various elements such as Lanthanum, cerium, dysprosium are also used in various proportions. The issue that is currently being talked about is that rare earth elements, being in short supply outside China, need to be conserved for the sake of production of mature and high-growth markets that are of high technology and have environment application.

China is planning a significant increase in the production of electrically-operated vehicles, solar energy, energy-efficient lighting for which rare earth elements are major inputs. Further, many multinationals such as GE, Siemens have already set up industries in China that would require rare earths as their primary input. In the 18th Congress of Communist Party of China, the resource conservation has been adopted as a major goal. Meanwhile, the sharp drop in prices due to a demand shortfall and comparatively less attention on energy-efficient technology has resulted in a cut in the production of rare earths.

These latest happenings may draw a few implications for the conservation of raw materials. If the country possessing natural resources makes a plan for production of goods that would require input in the long run, how can we make judgment on the propriety of the country imposing restriction on the export of the item. The case of restriction on rare earth export by China against the backdrop of a WTO ruling supporting

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