Setting off speculation that China is manipulating exports to punish certain trade partners, Beijing announced in July it was slashing its six-month export quota of so-called ‘rare earth’ by 72 percent. Speculation continued this week with reports of an expanding embargo of the minerals.
But the so-called “rare earths” are neither rare nor does China have a lock on them. Although China produces 97 percent of the world’s rare earths, it contains only 30 percent of the world’s supply. The United States, Russia, and Australia all have significant reserves of the 17 elements essential in semiconducters, lasers, and other high-tech gadgets.
While mining them has proved uneconomical at usual world prices and environmentally harmful, that may be changing. Click through the following slides to read how rare earths are important to your daily life.