Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sen. Stabenow applauds U.S. challenge to China’s illegal restrictions on rare earth elements

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) today applauded U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk for taking action to address China’s illegal restrictions on the export of rare earth minerals. Today, the Trade Representative announced he was filing a case with the World Trade Organization challenging China’s anti-competitive practices. Senator Stabenow was among the first to urge the Administration to address this problem. These rare earth materials are important components in many U.S. made-products, including hybrid car batteries, wind turbines, energy efficient lighting, and automobiles.

"I have been calling for strong action to address China’s illegal actions and am glad that action is now being taken," said Sen. Stabenow. "Michigan's economic turnaround depends on innovative businesses being able to manufacture the products of the future. We cannot let China's unfair trade practices stop job growth."

China is currently hoarding rare earth elements critical to a wide range of industries -- from hi-tech batteries for advanced technology vehicles, to smart phone batteries to important military technologies. China now controls production of more than 95 percent of the world’s supply -- and has increasingly been using export controls to reduce the amount available on the world market. This in turn has sent costs skyrocketing for businesses that manufacture products that require rare earth elements. China also has policies to prevent foreign companies from mining rare earth elements within its borders.

The European Union and Japan joined the United States in requesting World Trade Organization consultations regarding China’s unfair export restraints on rare earths.

Senator Stabenow has also been leading the effort to help revive America’s rare earth development. Her Battery Innovation Act includes a provision that would improve our nation’s critical minerals supply chain.


Patrick Bowen said...

Thank you for posting this article. To an average Joe reader, it might not appear that this is important to residents of the Keweenaw. However, China's RE embargo is absolutely having an effect on research at MTU and, I suspect, also at fledgling small businesses that could help bring forward-looking manufacturing to the UP.

I actually wrote on this a while ago (7 months ago!) on my blog: http://bit.ly/pgRod4. It's hard to believe that the situation has not improved since I posted my thoughts on it.

Again, I admire your ability to recognize the importance of this issue. Thank you!

Keweenaw Now said...

Thanks for your comment, Patrick. I hope others will comment on this issue as well. Could you give examples of "forward-looking manufacturing" for the UP?

Patrick Bowen said...

Absolutely! One of the major examples that I'm familiar with is the interest that URV, the Finnish wind generator company, has expressed a fair bit of interest in the UP in both a wind farm and manufacturing capacity. In addition to that, there are several small businesses and startups in Houghton/Hancock that do some really neat work, like Vesitech, a water purification technology company.

Aside from these, there are many examples of research that require the use of RE elements. For example, a $1M high strength, low alloy aluminum research project funded by the ONR (PI: Dr. Paul Sanders) relies heavily on expensive RE-bearing master alloys. My research, bioabsorbable metallic materials, also involve these metals in certain cases (for various Re-containing Mg alloys).

It's truly amazing how far this shortage has reached, even in a small community like the Keweenaw.

Keweenaw Now said...

Thanks, Patrick!