As Japan continues its hunt for sources of rare earth minerals other than China, the Yomiuri newspaper reports that an agreement with the nation of Kazakhstan has been reached that could see imports begin as soon as January 2013. A territorial dispute between China and Japan in 2010, albeit smaller than the current one, resulted in China briefly suspending its rare earths exports. Since then, Japan, and many other nations, are eager to lower their dependence on China and its monopoly of the valuable minerals.
The unidentified government source speaking to the Yomiuri says that Japan is looking to import roughly 1,500 tons of rare earths from Kazakhstan per year, which would amount to nearly 7.5% of its annual demand. The minerals are vital in the production of consumer electronics like smartphones, as well as the motors for hybrid and electric cars. As China is the world’s single largest producer of rare earths, Japan, the U.S., and Europe have filed complaints with the World Trade Organization (WTO) that the country is enforcing unfair restrictions on exports.
As the current Japan-China dispute over territorial islands began to really unfold in September, the Chinese government stated it would be reducing its rare earth mining permits by as much as 40%. Japan was specified in this announcement, but it doesn’t take much to see between the lines that China is trying to use it as leverage. Earlier this week Chinese organizations tried to say they had no such restrictions on exports to Japan, but that the overall economic trend was leading to a yearly decline.