Trade minister Akihiro Ohata said Tuesday that China allowed rare earth metals to be exported to a Japanese firm in Malaysia on Monday but added he has not obtained information that Japan-bound exports of the important metals have fully resumed.
As part of efforts to get to the bottom of the situation, which emerged amid growing tensions between Japan and China over the Senkaku dispute, Finance minister Yoshihiko Noda said separately that Japan sent a letter to China on Monday.
The letter also called on Beijing to appropriately handle its customs clearance procedures.
While China has denied placing an embargo on rare earth minerals, which are used for high-tech products, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has been told by some trading firms that Chinese exports to Japan, or related procedures, have been halted.
During a regular news conference Tuesday, Ohata said that rare earth exports to a Japanese firm in Malaysia were allowed, but he had no information that similar moves have been seen by companies in Japan.
Noting that he had also heard about cases in which exports of items other than rare earths were being halted, Ohata said that, if such a situation were confirmed, he would call on China to “correct” it.
China produces more than 90 percent of the global output of rare earth metals. Neodymium, the raw material for magnets, is a well-known rare earth element.
Trade probe planned
To delve deeper into Beijing’s suspected interference in exports to Japan, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Tuesday it will conduct a survey on hundreds of firms engaged in China-related trade and business.
The survey will cover about 30 companies that trade in or use rare earth metals, as well as several hundred engaged in other business operations.
Japan may bring the matter to the World Trade Organisation if it is confirmed that Beijing has taken retaliatory action over the ongoing Senkaku crisis, said Tsutomu Murasaki, director of METI’s nonferrous metals division.
While the ministry has been gathering some information from Japanese companies, “not all the pieces of information are consistent,” which is why it is launching the survey, he said.
Murasaki said METI has heard from some companies dealing with rare earth metals that their requests for export licenses aren’t being smoothly accepted.
Seiji Takagi, director of the ministry’s Northeast Asia division, said he also has been hearing more reports than usual of trouble in trade with China, but some companies have said they haven’t been affected. Beijing has denied issuing any orders to stop exports to Japan.
Delays in the export processes of rare earth metals for Japan were first reported last week.