Europe to recycle and dig in drive for rare earths

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Europe will look to recycle used goods and start prospecting on home turf as it joins the international scramble for rare earth minerals, European Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani told AFP Thursday.

After a June report forecast an upcoming shortage of 14 critical mineral raw materials across the bloc, Tajani said he would issue a plan January 26 "to ensure a supply of rare earths for companies across the European Union."

Rare earth minerals are used in everything from guided missiles to flat screen televisions and cars but availability is increasingly under pressure.

Tajani said the thrust of his upcoming proposal was to build a strategic stockpile of rare earths for the 27-nation bloc.

To that end the EU needed to be ready to bend its own rules and "be more flexible" on protecting the environment when prospecting, he said.

Another way of stockpiling will be to get European industry support to recycle around 20 million tonnes of electronic and electric waste a year.

"We'll have to get industry onside, but it won't be easy," he said.

"At a recent visit to the London metal stock exchange there was very positive support for this idea," he added.

While mining and recycling in Europe, the 27-nation union is already working hard to secure new access by signing pacts with foreign suppliers.

Tajani said he had made progress during an EU-Africa summit in Libya last week and that the EU was also in talks with Russia.

France, which currently chairs the G20, "has decided to put the question on the G8 and G20 agendas during its presidency," he added.

"And I will be travelling to Latin America late February early March. They have amazing ressources."

As for China, the world's leading producer of rare earth minerals, "it supplies itself first and foremost and sets prices."

Fears of diminshing supplies of rare earths used in mobile phones, lithium-ion batteries or fibre-optic cable, are causing an increasing number of countries to secure future supplies.

In Japan, whose high-tech industries are the world's largest user, trading house Toyota Tsusho recently announced it was building a plant for processing rare earth minerals in India.

Japan has also reached a deal with Vietnam to share its nuclear energy and infrastructure-building technologies while jointly developing rare earth minerals in the Southeast Asian country.

And last month it formed a strategic alliance with an Australian mining firm that would satisfy more than 30 percent of Japanese demand if the deal goes ahead.

© 2010 AFP

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