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Pollution the big barrier to freer trade in rare earths

(Planet Ark, 20 Mar 12) Tackling pollution, not freeing up trade, is regarded as the solution to a global shortage of rare earths, the metals that are the building blocks of the 21st century.

The United States, Europe and Japan have lodged a formal trade complaint against China, the world's monopoly supplier of rare earths, accusing it of choking exports of the metals, used in advanced technologies from computer screens to hybrid cars.

Industry experts say the West and Japan have a strong case to argue before the World Trade Organization (WTO), but the same experts and environmental groups argue that mere victory on a trade complaint will not be enough to break China's grip.

Instead, they say the key to ending China's monopoly is for other nations to help clean up one of mining's dirtiest industries - an industry the United States, once the world's largest supplier, allowed to wither many years ago.

China's rare earths refineries, which secured their monopoly by turning out metals at extremely low prices for more than a decade, have poisoned rivers with acid and piled up radioactive waste - an environmental cost that aroused little controversy in developed, consuming nations when metal prices were low.

Planet Ark, 20 Mar 12: Pollution the big barrier to freer trade in rare earths


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