- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 29, 2010

TOKYO (AP) - China has apparently lifted a de facto ban on Japan-bound exports of rare earth metals, which are crucial for advanced manufacturing, but shipments have been stalled due to tighter custom inspections at Chinese ports, two Japanese trading firms said Wednesday.

China’s export ban, imposed since last week, reflected business fallout from tensions between Tokyo and Beijing over Japan’s detention of a Chinese captain whose fishing boat collided with two Japanese coast guard vessels on Sept. 7 near disputed islands.

Japan released the Chinese captain last Friday. On Monday, China resumed giving the green light to Japan-bound exports of the exotic metals, said the two officials from two Japanese trading firms.

"Suddenly, China started giving export permissions to our Chinese business partners," said an official at a major trading house. He declined to comment whether the resumption was due to Japan’s release of the Chinese captain.

China produces over 95 percent of the global supply of rare earths _ metallic elements crucial for superconductors, computers, hybrid electric cars and other high-tech products. Japan imports half of China’s shipments of the exotic metals.

But rare earths from China have not arrived in Japan yet due to tighter custom inspections of goods going to and from Japan at Chinese ports, the officials said. They declined to be named as they are not authorized to talk to the media.

"Under normal circumstances, Chinese customs inspect around 10 percent of total rare earth shipments to Japan. But they are inspecting almost 100 percent, really slowing the whole shipment process," said one trading company official.

The two officials said Japan-bound shipments of rare earth elements were stuck at Chinese ports.

Japan’s top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku, said Wednesday that Tokyo asked Beijing about the rare earth export ban. Sengoku said China told Japan that there was no such move.

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