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Rare-earth metal project in limbo

Published:Wednesday | March 4, 2015 | 11:47 AM

The much-touted exploration of rare-earth metals from red mud by a Japanese company in partnership with the Jamaica Bauxite Institute has failed to enter its second phase, owing to a flood of the metals on the world market.

Nippon Light Metals, a Japanese company, invested $600 million to carry out exploration works locally, a project that Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Minister Phillip Paulwell described as "very successful".

Fielding questions from Opposition spokesman on Finance Audley Shaw on Tuesday evening during the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament, Paulwell said the pilot project ended with the feasibility fully determined and the company along with Government jointly applying for a patent which would be shared equally between the partners.

However, he pointed out that Nippon Light did not take the next step to commercialise the project primarily because a greater supply of metals from rare earth had entered the world market and pushed down the prices. This came in the wake of a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling against China.

Bloomberg Business reported earlier this year that China abolished its 15-year-old export controls on rare earths after the WTO ruled that the nation's quota system was in breach of trade rules.

According to reports, export controls by China, which accounts for 90 per cent of the world's production of rare earths, have soured relations with the world's major users, including the United States and Japan, and spurred other nations to invest in mining the materials.