EU task force on raw materials sought

July 7, 2011 at 6:33 AM
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STRASBOURG, France, July 7 (UPI) -- Europe needs to establish a high-level task force to monitor and ensure the continent's access to critical raw materials, European parliamentarians say.

Members of the European Parliament's Committee on Industry, Research and Energy last week adopted a report written by German MEP Reinhard Butikofer of the Greens-European Free Alliance party warning that Europe's industrial security depends on access to dwindling supplies of rare earths used in high-tech industries.

It urged the European Commission to closely monitor supplies of such raw materials and establish a "risk radar" for critical rare earths used in the high-tech and defense industries, such as germanium and gallium.

The new EU task force, it said, should be formed to ensure "strategic coherence" on raw material supplies and promote "the establishment of an early warning system for market distortion and resource-fueled conflicts."

European leaders fear raw materials shortages as China -- the dominant supplier -- has begun to restrict their export.

The report also calls for much greater efficiency in their use and more recycling.

"The committee sent a clear signal on the direction of the EU's raw material strategy," Butikofer said. "The report calls for the EU to follow an ambitious innovation strategy focusing on resource efficiency and the reuse and recycling of raw materials to ensure that Europe's economy will be both competitive and sustainable in the future."

The report came as the World Trade Organization ruled against China in a complaint brought by the EU in 2009 claiming Beijing had violated global rules by restricting the export of nine "raw earth" materials -- including coke, zinc and bauxite -- used in the steel, aluminum and chemicals industries.

The trade body ruled Chinese export quotas were discriminatory and served to push prices rapidly higher. The ruling could set a precedent for similar European complaints about Beijing's restrictions on rare earth exports as well, The New York Times reported.

"This is a clear verdict for open trade and fair access to raw material," European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said in a statement Tuesday. "Furthermore, in the light of this result, China should ensure free and fair access to rare earth supplies."

EU member countries are struggling with rapidly rising prices for raw materials, which are hard to mine and process and are highly dependent on imports for materials used in high-tech products such as catalysts and as well as in the construction of renewable energies.

One way to address that, the EP report said, is to coordinate the moves of the EU member states. It called on the European Commission to make an analysis of the entire life cycle of raw materials, from mining to waste and look for cheaper ways to increase their recycling.

Norway was held up as an example. Europe, it said, would do well to emulate its achievement of recycling 80 percent of its electronic waste.

The MEPs also advocated "urban mining" projects, in which closed landfills are excavated for scrap materials to be recycled, which, it said, "could be much richer sources than usual mines."

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