Rare as it is

(China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-29 07:57
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Attempts by some rich countries to challenge China's decision to enhance control and regulation over rare earth minerals is the latest evidence of astounding unfairness in the current global economic and trade order.

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If the world economy is to embrace a sustainable recovery, no country should stand in the way of China properly pricing resources as scarce as rare earths.

The Chinese government made it clear again on Thursday that it will not use its current dominance of global rare earth supplies as a bargaining tool. Such an official statement is meant to ease unjustified international concerns that China may be using its rare earth exports as an economic and political lever.

China enjoyed little appreciation over the past two decades when it was burdened with the world's demand for the 17 elements called rare earths. With about one third of the world's total reserves, China has satisfied more than 90 percent of the world's need for rare earth elements at such an abnormally low price that it belied the name.

Yet, even more absurd, while other countries of large reserves like the United States have contributed virtually nothing to global supply in the past decade, they are demanding China, the largest producer of the elements, to keep exporting with little say over the price and quantity of exports.

It is no secret that regulatory problems in the domestic industry must have contributed to this abnormal trade.

Hence, when China decided to strengthen its regulatory measures on the exploration, production and export of rare earths in line with international practice and WTO rules, those import countries that have benefited from China's cheap export of rare earth materials for a long time should not be too surprised.

Given the severe environmental problems associated with their exploration, as well as their increasing value as essential elements in new energy technologies, it is all too natural that rare earths will become much dearer than before.

While China retains its position as the largest exporter of rare earth materials, no one should expect the country to continue to meet most of the world's demand, because that is simply unsustainable given that it has only one third of the world's reserves.

Besides, if the international community is really serious about sustainable development, China's efforts to exercise control and regulation over its rare earth industry should be a welcome step.

The long-term benefit of pricing resources appropriately is far more important to sustainable development around the world than the short-term gainsthat importers can reap from cheap rare earth elements.

But international efforts to fix the global economic and trade order in line with a sustainable future, unfortunately, remain rare.