Japan and Vietnam to Jointly Develop Rare Earth Deposits

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Oct. 22 – Japan and Vietnam plan to co-develop rare earth deposits in the Southeast Asian nation as China, the world’s leading supplier of such minerals, continues to cut its supply.

A joint development agreement is expected to be signed on October 31, when Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan is scheduled to travel to the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi for a meeting with his counterpart Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

According to sources close to the deal, Japan will be providing the exploration and smelting technologies necessary for extracting the hard-to-get rare earth minerals from their ore deposits. The deal is likely to start moving quickly once the cooperation agreement is signed.

Japan is one of the world’s largest markets for rare earth minerals, which it uses in its immense automobile manufacturing industry. But a senior Japanese government official warned on Thursday that the country’s stockpile of rare earth minerals may dry up by March or April of next year if import levels don’t return to normal.

Despite claims by China that shipments are still going strong, all 31 Japanese companies which handle rare earth minerals have reported that there has been a disruption to supplies following a recent dispute over the detention of a Chinese fisherman operating in Japanese-claimed waters.

“It is too risky to depend on one country for crucial material supplies,” said Hideyuki Wakutsu, an official with Japan’s Trade Ministry.

If China continues to hold back its rare earth supplies, it seems Vietnam may be one of the country’s to benefit.