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Korea ups rare earth reserve target

South Korea is to increase its rare earth reserves to around 1,500 tons by 2014 amid fierce global competition to ensure a stable supply.

The new target for a group of 17 scarce metals key to mobile devices, electric vehicles and other high-tech products, would meet the local industrial demand for 100 days, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said Monday.

The government initially set the goal at 1,200 tons by 2016 last year.

The country’s current stockpile for rare earths stands at 62 tons, good for only four days of local industrial demand.

State-run Korea Resources Corp. will establish a special warehouse for storing rare metals in Gunjang National Industrial Complex in North Jeolla Province in August, which is equipped with temperature and humidity adjusting functions, the ministry said.

The government aims to secure the amount by finding alternate markets to China, which currently produces 97 percent, or 124,000 tons, of the global rare earth supply.

In addition to efforts of state-run developers including KORES making entries to the African and South American markets, local conglomerates will step up projects on seeking such materials as well, the ministry said.

POSCO and National Pension Service jointly invested $650 million to acquire a 5 percent stake in a Brazilian producer of a rare earth metal used in steel, oil pipes and automotive components earlier this month.

Hyundai Motor Group also showed its ambition to boost its overseas rare metal development last month, which is imperative for the firm’s development of clean cars.

China has been reducing its annual rare earth export quotas since 2006, particularly in the last two years, and using them as a virtual diplomatic weapon.

In February, the communist state tightened its grasp on its rare earths industry by integrating production and restricting illegal mining.

The Chinese government triggered alarm last September when it imposed an embargo for two months on shipments of raw rare earths to Japan during a territorial dispute. It also halted some shipments to the United States and Europe for a week in October.

By Koh Young-aah (youngaah@heraldcorp.com)
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