EU Presses China To Maintain Tech Material Exports

BEIJING (AP) — A European Union envoy said Wednesday he will press Chinese officials to maintain exports of rare earths needed by high-tech industry.

European companies are worried about Beijing's plans to reduce export quotas, said Matthew Baldwin, the union's director of market access. He was in Beijing for talks with Ministry of Commerce and other officials.

"We shall be expressing very clearly our concerns on this issue and stressing the importance of keeping that quota open," Baldwin told reporters. He said he wanted to find out about Chinese export plans for 2011.

China has about 30 percent of global rare earths deposits but accounts for about 97 percent of production. The United States, Canada and Australia have rare earths but stopped mining them in the 1990s as lower-cost Chinese supplies became available.

Global manufacturers that need rare earths to make mobile phones, lightweight batteries and other high-tech products were jolted when Beijing blocked shipments to Japan last month amid a squabble over disputed islands.

China's government says it needs to limit rare earths production to conserve supplies and reduce environmental damage from mining.

Baldwin said the EU was sympathetic to environment concerns but wanted to be sure foreign and Chinese companies were being treated equally.

"We have received a number of expressions of concern about the downward trend in the quota," he said.

China's export quota for rare earths this year is 24,280 tons, down 30 percent from 2009.

The Commerce Ministry denied a Chinese newspaper report that next year's quota would be cut by a further 30 percent but no official figure has been announced.