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The United States, Europe and Japan have joined forces to challenge China's restrictions on exports of rare-earth metals, escalating a trade row over access to some of the most important raw materials used in advanced technologies.
Labourers work at a site of a rare earth metals mine at Nancheng county, Jiangxi province March 14, 2012.
In response, China's Ministry of Commerce says it will properly deal with the dispute settlement request in accordance with World Trade Organization rules.
The Obama administration has taken its first step with the World Trade Organization in trying to force the Chinese government to ease export restrictions on rare earth minerals.
U.S. President Barack Obama upbraided China of breaking global trade rules. He argues, the export restrictions on the 17 types of rare elements are putting American workers and businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
Barack Obama said: "We've got to take control of our energy future and we cannot let that energy industry take root in some other country because they were allowed to break the rules. So our administration will bring this case against China today. We will keep working every single day to give American workers, and American businesses, a fair shot in the global economy."
The complaint is the first WTO case to be filed jointly by the US, EU and Japan. The Chinese government says the allegations are "groundless".
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said: "We think the policy is in line with WTO rules. China hopes other countries can shoulder responsibilities for supplies and find alternative resources."
Liu added that, with 36.4% of the world's rare earth reserves, China accounts for over 90% of the world's production. In 2009, China decided to cap its exports, citing the need to reduce environmental damage and conserve scarce resources.
Liu Baocheng, director of Center for International Business Echics said: "I think now the environmental degradation and the infringement of human health became major concerns of China's all mining industries, particularly in the rare earth. And this rampant jungle type of operation is no longer tolerable given the national strategy for sustainable development.
The rare earth dispute comes as U.S. President Barack Obama faces increasingly fierce competition, in the run-up to November's presidential race.
Liu said: "He is preparing for his second term in the White House. He needs to win the support of the key industries - the auto industry, the telecom industry."
Reporter: "Under the term of WTO complaint, China will have 10 days to respond and have to hold talks with the US, EU and Japan within 60 days. If no solution is found within that time, Washington and its partners could request a formal WTO panel to investigate Chinese practice."
Now, the WTO needs to weigh up the argument between China's conservation concerns, and the increasing global hunger for the rare earth minerals.