Jan. 28, 2013 (TSR) – The prime minister of Greenland says he will not favour the EU over China or other investors when granting access to highly prized rare earth minerals. Kuupik Kleist said it would not be fair “to protect others’ interests more than protecting, for instance, China’s”.
Europe has made a request for special treatment ahead of what many believe will be a major production boom in Greenland’s lucrative rare earth mineral industry.
Greenland is not in the EU, even though Denmark is. While still a Danish territory, Greenland negotiated an exit nearly 30 years ago from what is now the EU and despite being subject to some treaty provisions, it is almost wholly autonomous since another referendum on relations with Copenhagen in 2009.
Rare earths are essential for the manufacturing of consumer electronics. China currently produces 97% of the world’s rare earths, vital in the manufacture of mobile phones and other high-tech products.
The EU sees “especially strong potential” in Greenland’s deposits of niobium, platinum, rare earths and tantalum, among the elements on an EU “critical raw materials” list.
The EU, the world’s biggest single market, is entirely dependent on imports for 14 out of a group of 17 minerals collectively known as “rare earths,” a closely fought over market currently dominated by China which guards these resources tightly. The EU depends entirely on imports for cobalt, platinum and titanium; for 83% of its iron ore, 74% of its lithium and 54% of its copper, highlighting supplies classed by the European Commission as critical.
The share of European exploration companies operating in Greenland is only 15%. More than 50% are from Canada and Australia.
Currently Greenland’s rare earth resources are being intensively investigated. The European Commission estimates that those resources could total 9.16% of the global rare earth deposits.
“All are welcome if they meet our conditions and our requirements to operate in Greenland,” Mr Kleist said.
The EU, US and Japan are in dispute with China over its restrictions on exports of rare earths.
The dispute has gone to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Last year, China argued that its export restrictions were needed to protect the environment, conserve supplies and meet domestic demand.
Mr Kleist, speaking in the Danish capital Copenhagen, said Greenland needed to develop its resources, as it was too reliant on fishing and subsidies from Denmark.
Now, major Chinese mining firms have reportedly reached an agreement with Greenland officials to exploit the region’s huge potential for the minerals, which are now becoming more accessible due to accelerated ice melt in recent years.
Perhaps the EU will now opt for recycling as each year, each citizen of the EU chucks out the equivalent of 17 kilos (35 pounds) of electrical and electronic waste which is a real urban mine.
There are also reserves within the EU estimated to be worth 100 billion euros which could be developed.
“I do not see thousands of Chinese workers in the country as a threat,” he said, quoted by Denmark’s Ritzau news agency. He vowed to resist EU pressure concerning Greenland’s policy on rare earths.