BEIJING, July 6 (Xinhua) -- China's deputy commerce minister said on Wednesday that the country will continue to improve its regulations regarding the export of rare earth according to both Chinese law and the regulations of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Zhong Shan made the remarks at a rare earth export conference held in the city of Baotou, the country's largest rare earth industrial base in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
"Rare earth metals are non-renewable resources of great strategic importance. Improving the regulation of rare earth exports will help us to protect the environment and promote industrial restructuring, as well as allow the rare earth industry to develop in a healthy way," Zhong said.
The ministry will "synchronize" the regulation of the exports and domestic production and consumption of elementary rare earth products, he said.
He noted that MOC will make the country's rare earth environmental protection standards and industry entry standards also apply to rare earth exporters and cooperate with relevant departments to strengthen crackdowns on rare earth smuggling.
The ministry also vowed to encourage the development of advanced rare earth materials.
Zhong's remarks came after a WTO panel report Tuesday that supports complaints against China regarding the country's measures related to the exportation of various raw materials such as zinc, coke and magnesium.
The ruling was issued after an investigation on complaints filed by the United States, European Union and Mexico in 2009.
Although this case does not involve the rare earth metals, analysts said it could be a precedent.
Rare earths are a group of 17 minerals on the periodical table. Their unique magnetic and phosphorescent properties make them vital ingredients for producing sophisticated products ranging from electric car batteries, wind turbines to aerospace alloys.
China now supplies more than 90 percent of the global rare earth demand. However, decades of excessive exploitation makes its reserve fall to about one-third of the world's total from reported 85 percent in the 1990s.
Mining the rare earth elements is environmentally hazardous. As the world's largest rare earth metal supplier, China has suffered from serious environmental degradation.
To control the environmental damage, the Chinese government has announced various policies, including suspending the issuance of new licenses for rare earth prospecting and mining, imposing production caps and export quotas and announcing tougher environmental standards.
These measures, however, sparked complaints from major rare earth consumers such as the United States and Japan.
China has repeatedly stated that its regulation of the rare earth industry aims to protect the environment and resources.
The WTO's Article 20 allows its members to impose export restrictions for reasons such as conservation of exhaustible natural resources if such a restriction is made effective in conjunction with restrictions on domestic production or consumption.