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China Denies Japan Rare-Earth Ban Amid Diplomatic Row

by putao

posted in Business : Marketing Direct

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Post by (mbt schuhe günstig) Sep 2010

Sept. 23 (Bloomberg) -- China denied reports it has banned the export of rare earths to Japan, the biggest buyer of the minerals used in a wide range of high-technology products including Toyota Motor Corp. hybrid cars.

"China does not have a trade embargo on rare earth exports to Japan," Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economics Co-operation spokesman Chen Rongkai said in a telephone interview today. The New York Times earlier reported the embargo, citing an executive at a trade publication and consultancy that broke the story.

China, the world's largest rare-earths producer, cut export quotas for the minerals by 72 percent for the second half, citing a shortage of supply for domestic manufacturers. The accusations of further restrictions on trade to Japan come as the two countries are embroiled in a diplomatic row over the detention of a Chinese fishing boat skipper in disputed waters. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao this week demanded Japan "immediately and unconditionally" release the skipper or face retaliatory action. Letting political disputes affect supply of an essential industrial supply would exacerbate existing concerns about China's stranglehold on the industry, Dudley Kingsnorth, owner of Perth-based Industrial Minerals Co. of Australia, said in an interview today.

"It's very regrettable if we have the effective suspension of commercial contracts for political reasons," said Kingsnorth, whose company first reported on the embargo, citing unidentified officials at Japanese buyers of the minerals. "What it does, clearly, is bring a new factor into the consideration of supply of critical materials."

Kingsnorth, who managed the Mount Weld rare earths project for Ashton Mining of Canada Inc. for 10 years and has worked for BHP Billiton Ltd., Rio Tinto Group and Alcoa Corp., said China's actions would only spur buyers to develop alternative supplies.

Rare earths are a group of chemically similar metallic elements, including lanthanum, cerium, neodymium and europium. They are used in radar, high-powered magnets, mini hard-drives in laptop computers, catalytic converters for vehicles, electric-car batteries and wind turbines. Many are difficult to substitute with alternatives.

While relatively abundant in the earth's crust, finding deposits of rare earths significant enough to mine is less common, the U.S. Geological Survey says. China, the countries that made up the former Soviet Union and the U.S. have the largest reserves.

China controls more than 95 percent of the global supply of the minerals. Shipments will be capped at 7,976 metric tons, down from 28,417 tons for the same period a year ago, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce on July 8.

"Toyota has a stockpile of the rare earths and minerals used in hybrid cars and electrics parts, so an embargo is unlikely to affect its production anytime soon," said Koji Endo, an auto analyst at Advanced Research Japan in Tokyo. "If China keeps an embargo on sales for more than a year, Toyota might not be able to produce hybrids."

Still, any disruption to trade may drive prices of the raw material higher, damaging profit, he said.

Rising demand for hybrid cars and music players such as Toyota's Prius and Apple Inc.'s iPod have already driven up demand and prices for rare earths, even without China's export restrictions.

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China, the world's largest rare-earths producer, cut export quotas for the minerals by 72 percent for the second half, citing a shortage of supply for domestic manufacturers. The accusations of further restrictions on trade to Japan come as the two countries are embroiled in a diplomatic row over the detention of a Chinese fishing boat skipper in disputed waters. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao this week demanded Japan "immediately and unconditionally" release the skipper or face retaliatory action. Letting political disputes affect supply of an essential industrial supply would exacerbate existing concerns about China's stranglehold on the industry, Dudley Kingsnorth, owner of Perth-based Industrial Minerals Co. of Australia, said in an interview today.

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