Germany to help Japan obtain vital rare earths: minister

16th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Germany will help Japan gain access to vital rare earth minerals which are being withheld by China in a territorial dispute, German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle said Saturday.

Bruederle was speaking on his way home from a visit to Tokyo where he had talks with Japanese trade and economy ministers Akihiro Ohata and Banri Kaieda.

He said they had raised the possibility of Japan running out of stocks of the commodities vital for the manufacture of electronic goods such as mobile telephones.

In turn Bruederle spoke of eventual joint efforts to explore for new resources of the minerals, more than 90 percent of which are currently produced by China.

While Germany was not currently under threat of losing supplies, it needed urgently to diversify its sources as prices of the minerals rose on world markets.

Bruederle said Berlin and Tokyo wanted to work together to stimulate production in other countries where rare earths are to be found, including Namibia, Mongolia and the United States.

Shipments from China to Japan were quietly halted last month, traders say, amid the worst diplomatic spat in years between the Asian economic giants, sparked by Japan's arrest of a Chinese trawler captain in disputed waters.

Ohata said Friday that Tokyo will decide as early as Monday whether to lodge a protest with Beijing over its export freeze.

China has not officially declared an export stop, but a Japanese trade ministry survey released last week found that all 31 Japanese companies handling rare earth minerals had reported disruption to shipments.

Rare earths -- a group of 17 elements -- are used in high-tech products ranging from flat-screen televisions to lasers to hybrid cars, and China controls more than 95 percent of the global market.

The United States and Japan are now considering filing a case against China at the World Trade Organisation, the New York Times has reported.

Such a case would be complicated by the fact that China has not acknowledged the export halt in any documents or statements, the report said.

Speaking in Brussels on October 6, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Beijing "will not block the rare earth market."

"What we are pursuing is the sustainable development of rare earths, which is necessary to meet national needs -- and also the needs of the world," Wen said.

"We will not use (rare) earths as a bargaining tool but to ensure the development of the world," he said.

Bruederle also visited China, where he cautioned that a global trade war was brewing, amid wide differences between key trading nations on currency policy.

© 2010 AFP

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