China blocks WTO rare earths arbitration as US critical minerals bill goes to a vote

China has officially rejected a request by the US, Europe and Japan to have a special panel of the World Trade Organization arbitrate a dispute over the country’s controversial policy of restricting exports of rare earths.

China mines roughly 95% of the world’s rare earths and is also the globe’s top consumer of the 17 elements used in critical components for the automotive, high tech, green energy and defence industries, but the country maintains it only holds 23% of global REE reserves and is actively encouraging others nations to explore and mine REEs.

Platts reports under WTO rules, China can object once to the creation of a panel, but is not allowed to block it a second time when the Dispute Settlement Body meets on the issue:

China “said it was puzzled by the complainants’ initiation of the panel process as it has no intention of protecting its domestic industry through means that would distort trade,” DSB said Tuesday in a statement announcing China’s objection. “It added that at the present meeting, it was not in a position to accept the establishment of a panel.”

The news comes as the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012 (H.R. 4402) goes before the US Congress.

The bill – designed primarily to speed up permitting for mining projects – should pass easily with the support of Republicans in the house.

In the 2012 Ranking of Countries for Mining Investment, out of 25 major mining countries, the United States ranked last with Papua New Guinea in permitting delays, and towards the bottom regarding government take and social issues affecting mining.

US-based RARE – the Association for Rare Earth – said on Wednesday REEs are among the critical minerals whose production will be aided by passage of the bill.

RARE’s President and CEO Adam Falkoff said H.R. 4402 is “the most significant job creation bill to be brought to the floor this year. Passage of this legislation is an important step toward recovering the 22,000 rare earth-related jobs the U.S. has lost since the 1980s.”

Voting is set for Thursday afternoon.



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