16/12/2010 - 00:00

Team Australia touts rare earths

16/12/2010 - 00:00

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WESTERN Australia’s rare earths and lithium potential have become major selling points to overseas investors for state and federal representatives touting the nation’s resources opportunities on the international conferences circuit.

WESTERN Australia’s rare earths and lithium potential have become major selling points to overseas investors for state and federal representatives touting the nation’s resources opportunities on the international conferences circuit.

Department of Mines and Petroleum director general Richard Sellers and Geological Survey WA executive director Rick Rogerson have each just returned from major promotional trips to North Asia and Europe.

Mr Sellers spent a week in China and Europe, addressing the China Mining 2010 conference in Tianjin and the Mines and Money conference in London.

On a related trip, Mr Rogerson also attended the China Mining conference before travelling on to South Korea and Japan.

Both tours were undertaken in conjunction with representatives from the nation’s state-based mines departments and geoscience bodies, working together under the banner ‘team Australia’ to promote opportunities to invest in the nation’s resources sector.

On their return, Mr Sellers and Mr Rogerson singled out Australia’s rare earths and lithium potential as being the topics of most interest to overseas investors, particularly in Europe, Japan and South Korea, given the reliance of their respective electronics industries on imports from China.

“There’s a real interest at the moment in rare earths and lithium,” Mr Sellers told WA Business News.

“The rare earths story is one that is unfamiliar to a lot of them ... and when you take China’s majority share (of supply) out of the picture, Europe and the rest are asking where are they going to get it from.”

China currently accounts for more than 90 per cent of global rare earths supplies, and has drastically reduced exports in recent months, including an unofficial embargo on exports to Japan in September following a diplomatic row.

That has sparked a rush of investor interest in emerging or potential suppliers in Australia, with the US government also rating WA a vital alternative source of future supply.

Lynas Corporation’s giant Mount Weld deposit near Laverton is one of the world’s biggest untapped deposits of rare earths, a collection of 17 elements including yttrium, cerium and promethium, which are increasingly vital to the electronics and high-tech industries.

“When they look at the slides of Mount Weld, which averages 15 per cent (rare earths) and goes as high as 20 per cent, their eyes pop out,” Mr Sellers said.

Mr Rogerson, who travelled on to South Korea and Japan, said the Australian group diplomatically avoided discussion of the rare earths sector while in China, but it was definitely “the flavour of the month”, in Seoul and Tokyo.

Coincidentally, the Australian tour group landed in Tokyo the day last month that Lynas concluded a $US250 million funding and off-take deal with Japanese groups Sojitz and JOGMEC to double output from Mt Weld mine to 22,000 tonnes a year in 2012, of which almost half will be guaranteed to Japanese customers.

Ironically, the Sojitz deal was only possible after the federal government last year rejected a Chinese proposal to buy a controlling interest in Lynas for $250 million.

Mr Sellers said the ‘team Australia’ approach of pooling resources to ensure a high profile official Australian presence at major conferences such as China Mining and the annual Prospectors & Developers conference (PDAC) in Canada had proven to be highly effective in promoting the state’s resources potential to international investors.

“They (international investors) are surprised when they talk to you that there are just so many commodities already being mined here in WA,” he said.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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