World searches seabed for the min­er­als to cir­cum­vent China's mo­nop­oly

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY -

Rare earth min­er­als—-there are 17 of them—are vi­tal for the pro­duc­tion of smart phones, cam­eras, steel and hy­brid cars, and hence the world econ­omy. They are present in a sig­nif­i­cant amount on the sea floor, both in sov­er­eign and in­ter­na­tional wa­ters. At present, China con­trib­utes 90 per cent of the global pro­duc­tion of the min­er­als. De­vel­op­ments in last five years show that China has been us­ing this mo­nop­oly to con­trol the pro­duc­tion and price of the min­er­als. So there have been at­tempts world­wide to re­align strate­gic re­la­tions around ex­plo­ration of rare earths in seabed. De­vel­oped coun­tries are tak­ing the lead. Ja­pan, along with the US and the EU, formed an al­liance to chal­lenge China's re­stric­tive poli­cies in the WTO. In April 2014, the WTO ruled against China.

In­dia has col­lab­o­rated with Ja­pan since Novem­ber 2012 to de­velop rare earth ma­te­ri­als. As part of In­dia-Ja­pan strate­gic col­lab­o­ra­tion, an agree­ment was signed for ex­plo­ration and pro­duc­tion of rare earths, fol­low­ing which In­dia is set­ting up a mon­azite pro­cess­ing plant in Odisha. In April 2013, Ja­pan dis­closed dis­cov­ery of a bounty of rare earths in the seabed around Mi­nami-Tori-shima Is­land. Sci­en­tists claim the re­serve holds 20 to 30 times more min­er­als than those be­ing mined in China.

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