September 8, 2011 / 7:57 PM / 8 years ago

U.S., EU, Japan to discuss rare earths in October

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Officials from the United States, European Union and Japan will gather in Washington next month to find ways of cutting demand for raw materials whose supplies China is limiting, a U.S. official said on Thursday.

Experts and officials will discuss in early October how to team up to develop high-tech goods - such as electric car motors and wind turbines - that are less dependent on coveted rare earth minerals, and how to make better use of those minerals that are available, the official said.

“There is a growing market for these products and we need to be able to keep producing them,” Jeff Skeer of the office of policy and international affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy told Reuters by telephone.

China produces more than 95 percent of global rare earth minerals — used to make fiber optic cables and wind turbines among other high-tech goods — and its efforts to limit production, citing resource depletion and environmental degradation, have alarmed its overseas customers.

Adding to tensions, Chinese state media on Tuesday announced plans to halt production at three major mines.

“We need to find out, how can you use less and how can you get more,” Skeer said.

Talks may also broaden to include officials from producing countries such as Canada and Australia, he said.

Europe’s need for secure sources of critical raw materials is particularly acute given the bloc’s history of relying on imports as well as costly mining and environmental rules applied by its 27 states.

EU lawmakers will next Tuesday issue recommendations to policymakers which, though non-binding, reflect industry and environmental concerns.

On Wednesday, the EU’s executive Commission published policy plans to improve the bloc’s access to energy and energy goods, calling among other things for trilateral cooperation on rare earths with the United States and Japan.

Reporting by Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck; editing by James Jukwey

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