China accounts for over 90% of the global output of rare earth metals, a key component in smart phones, computer hard drives, and catalytic converters in cars. In 2010, China announced it would impose an export quota on the valuable metals, sending several developed economies – notably Japan, which relies heavily on the production of electronics – into a bit of a panic.
China is not the only country sitting on large rare earth deposits. The metals are not so ‘rare’ as their name implies, and can be found in inner Asia, Australia, parts of Namibia, and the United States. However, the refining process is both costly and environmentally damaging to an extent that most countries are unwilling to mass produce at levels required to meet global supply.