WASHINGTON -- The United States, Europe and Japan joined forces last week against Chinese restrictions on exports of rare earth minerals critical to production of hybrid and electric vehicles and other high-tech devices.
"We want our companies building those products right here in America. But to do that, American manufacturers need to have access to rare earth materials which China supplies," said President Barack Obama after announcing the joint filing with the World Trade Organization.
"If China would simply let the market work on its own, we'd have no objections. But their policies currently are preventing that from happening and they go against the very rules that China agreed to follow," Obama said.
He cast the decision to take action with the European Union and Japan as part of stepped-up U.S. efforts to make sure countries play by global trade rules.
Rare-earth minerals such as neodymium and dysprosium are used in motor magnets in Nissan's Leaf electric car, the Chevrolet Volt plug-in and Honda Motor Co.'s Insight hybrid.
Though dependent on the outside world for vast quantities of industrial commodities such as iron and coal, China accounts for about 97 percent of world output of the 17 rare-earth metals. They are crucial for the defense, electronics and renewable-energy industries and are used in products such as mobile phones, disk drives, wind turbines and rechargeable batteries.
The action over China's export curbs begins a 60-day process for the two sides to try to resolve the dispute. If unsuccessful, the United States, the European Union and Japan would ask the World Trade Organization to establish a panel to decide the case. With appeals, the case could take as long as two years.
Also last week, Obama signed a bill that restores the ability of the United States to impose countervailing, or anti-subsidy, duties on goods from China and other "nonmarket economies" after a court ruling struck down the practice.