Japan and China to launch talks on rare earth metals

Japan and China agreed Saturday they will launch a vice minister-level meeting to study Tokyo’s call for Beijing to ease export controls on rare earth metals (TSXV:RA) (OOTC:RAREF) used in hybrid electric vehicles, mobile phones and other high-tech products.

The two countries agreed to step up joint efforts to ensure ”strong, sustainable and balanced growth” in the world economy, while Japan urged China to steadily implement currency reforms.

The two countries also agreed to take action to remove obstacles in technology transfer and agricultural trade, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan said at a news conference after an economic ministerial meeting in Beijing.

They will complete a joint study involving governments, industry and academics on a trilateral free trading agreement with South Korea by 2012 as scheduled, paving the way for eventual economic integration in East Asia, Wang said.

The Japan-China high-level economic dialogue came as China’s influence on the world economy is increasing after overtaking Japan as the second-largest economy in the April-June quarter.

Japan asked China to ease export restrictions on rare earth metals, but Beijing dismissed the request citing national security concerns and natural resources protection, according to Japanese officials.

China argued that the export controls would not violate World Trade Organization rules, the officials said.

China produces more than 90 percent of global output of rare earth metals. Neodymium, the raw material for magnets, is a well-known rare earth element.

Masayuki Naoshima, Japan’s minister of economy, trade and industry, and Li Yizhong, China’s minister of industry and information technology, agreed that the two countries will hold a vice minister-level meeting once a year to discuss the rare earth metals issue, the officials said.

Wang, who co-chaired the meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, said the Japanese and Chinese economies are ”highly complementary” and that the two countries have ”huge” potential for cooperation in that regard.

Ministers from the two countries had in-depth talks about promoting bilateral tie-ups in energy saving, environmental protection, high-end manufacturing, food safety, and information and telecommunication, he said.

Analysts stressed the importance of closer bilateral economic relations, which would allow China to take in Japan’s high-tech and energy-saving technology and Japan to tap China’s robust demand for its growth, especially when the global recovery has been slowing recently.

”China’s ascent to the world’s second-largest economy shows that it is no longer the world’s factory — it’s also probably the world’s most dynamic market as well,” said Bill Adams, a resident economist in Beijing for the Conference Board, a New York-based business research organization.

”Because of geographic proximity and historical ties to the region, Japanese businesses in particular stand to benefit from continued strong demand from China in the coming years,” Adams said.

Six Japanese ministers took part in the meeting, including Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa. The six are scheduled to meet Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Sunday.

Even though China has surpassed Japan in terms of gross domestic product, analysts urged Beijing to improve ”the quality of its economic development” by pursuing higher energy efficiency with the help of Japan.

”It is calculated that China’s consumption of steel, bronze, aluminum, zinc and other metals for every 10,000 yuan of its GDP value is much higher than developed countries, and possibly four to six times the world average,” said Li Qingyuan, a Chinese scholar of international studies.

”The country’s economic output per unit of resources is only one-sixth, one-10th and one-20th that of Germany, the United States and Japan, respectively,” Li wrote in the Aug. 19 issue of the China Daily newspaper.

Saturday’s meeting was the third of its kind following the first session in December 2007 in Beijing and the second one in June last year in Tokyo.