Philippines to revive rare earth elements dev't plan with China

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The Philippines will try to revive next month preparations with China for the joint development of rare earth elements (REEs) in the Philippines, according to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).

MGB Director Leo Jasareno told reporters that Philippine representatives would fly to Naning, China, on May 8 to discuss Manila's intention to push through with the joint development plan.

Analysts call REEs "strategic minerals" because of they can be used in the development of weapons guidance systems and other space-age technologies.

REEs are abundant in the earth's crust but are called "rare" because they are usually concentrated in quantities too small for commercial mining-something which the Philippines hopes will not be the case here.

The Philippine and Chinese governments are scheduled to discuss and prepare the terms of reference for the REE explorations work, as well as finalise a memorandum of agreement that would provide how, when and where exploration work will be conducted.

The agreement will likewise provide the cost of the exploration work.

Last year, the Philippines' plan to produce REEs was stalled after experts from the China Geological Survey (CGS), a Chinese government-owned entity, did not arrive in the country for the joint exploration programme, This, despite several "reminders" by the MGB.

This came amid a dispute between Manila and Beijing over Panatag Shoal at the West Philippine Sea. Before the dispute, Manila and Beijing were all set to sign a deal to jointly explore for rare earth elements.

Jasareno said MGB had regularly reminded Beijing about the programme. but had yet to receive official reply from its Chinese counterpart.

"We want to open up the topic with CGS. That's why we're going to send representatives," Jasareno said.

In the first quarter of 2013, the MGB started the identification of mining tenements that could be developed into REE exploration sites, notably those close to copper-gold mines.

Jasareno said MGB had already conducted initial inspections in several areas that could be developed into mining sites dedicated to rare earth elements-a major component of electronic equipment and mobile phones.

Palawan and Nueva Vizcaya are among the areas identified as potential sources of REEs.

The MGB earlier said it would spend some 20 million pesos (US$484,600) for the programme.

Earlier reports indicated that the joint Philippine-China exploration for rare earth elements in the country might not push through this year as tensions between the two countries over the Panatag (Scarbourough) Shoal continued.

China, which controls about 97 per cent of global rare-earth supply, has been reducing its export quotas to secure greater control over prices.

The Asian economic powerhouse also said it would further tighten its control over REE production by expanding its export-quota system and imposing higher taxes. Chinese firms found violating export quotas would be sanctioned and slapped with high penalty.

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