March 13th, 2012
11:47 AM ET
Washington (CNN) - The United States plans to announce Tuesday that it is filing a trade case over China's export restrictions on minerals that are crucial for the production of many high tech devices, a senior Obama administration official said.
The European Union and Japan will join the United States in the case, which aims to pressure China to lift export limits on certain minerals known as rare earths, the official said Monday.
China produces about 95% of all rare earths, which are used to make products like flat-screen televisions, smart phones and hybrid cars.
The United States will ask the World Trade Organization, the organization tasked with monitoring trade between nations, to serve as a facilitator in talks with China, according to the U.S. official.
The United States accuses China of hoarding the valuable minerals for its own use. But China disputes that, saying the restrictions are motivated by environmental concerns.
Concern in the United States over the supply of rare earths resulted in a hearing on the matter in September by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.
Of particular concern was how vital the minerals are for top-of-the-line weapons, including missile guidance systems, drones and the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Rare earths - including cerium, neodymium and dysprosium - also can be found in wind turbines, energy-efficient light bulbs and night vision goggles.
American companies are trying to answer the demand. Molycorp Inc, one of the few producers of rare earth minerals outside China, has urged Congress to do more to confront the problem and encourage research and development. Molycorp has mines in California and Colorado.
In 2010, China temporarily halted shipments of rare earths to Japan, prompting a sharp spike in prices of the minerals.
CNN's Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.