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India/Japan expands rare-earth collaboration agreement
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15th October 2012
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KOLKATA (miningweekly.com) - India and Japan were likely to sign a new agreement under the continuous Bilateral Strategic Dialogue Framework in November this year to broaden collaboration in the development of rare earths.

The new agreement would also include provisions for deep-sea exploration and mining, as well as joint ventures in third countries like Afghanistan and Kazakhstan.

“Against the backdrop of successes of existing collaboration between the two countries in rare-earth resources, a new and more extensive agreement was on the cards during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s official visit to Japan scheduled for November,” a senior government official said.

“The proposed agreement would aim to expand current collaborations that ensure supplies of rare earths to Japan from Indian resources. The next stage would be to enhance the flow of technology and leverage collaboration in developing resource bases in third countries.

“In the process, India too would benefit from Japan’s $1.5-billion corpus earmarked for developing alternative sources of rare earths in the wake of the country’s disputes with China, the virtual monopolistic supplier of rare earths to the world,” the official added.

Currently Japan’s Toyota Tsusho Corporation has a monazite sand rare-earth production base in India. Toyotsu Rare Earths India Private, a wholly owned subsidiary of Toyota Tsusho, uses monazite sand classified as mine waste, which is supplied by Indian Rare Earths Limited. It is extracted from uranium and thorium to produce rare earths like neodymium, lanthanum and cerium.

The Indian venture has emerged as a major supplier of neodymium, lanthanum and cerium to meet Japanese demand, which was earlier being entirely met through imports from China, which drastically curtailed supply of rare earths for export.

According to Indian officials, while background papers to the Indian Prime Minister’s Japan visit were still under preparation and preparatory official-level talks were still under way, a key element that was likely to figure was joint partnership in developing rare-earth resources in third countries.

Citing a report of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the officials said that rare-earth resources in Afghanistan had been estimated at one-million tons and development could be the key to fight China's increasingly restrictive export policies on rare earths.

The Indian Prime Minister’s visit was expected to pave the way towards combining Japanese interests and technology in rare-earth production with India’s strategic interests in Afghanistan and already committed investments in mineral assets in that country by Indian mining and metal companies.

Japanese cooperation would also be sought for an Indian initiative in deep-sea mining in the Indian Ocean, as announced in July this year, as a counter to China’s exploration for polymetallic sulphides in the South-west Indian Ridge of the Indian Ocean.

Edited by: Esmarie Swanepoel

 

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Picture by: Reuters