With smartphones now an inescapable part of modern life, rare-earth metals have become a vital commodity.

They've also become important to the auto industry for use in the batteries, motors, and other components of the growing number of electrified cars on the road.

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Parts makers the world over will likely soon have less tenuous access to these materials, because China says it will scrap its export quotas on rare-earth metals, BBC News reports.

The change in policy comes after complaints to the World Trade Organization (WTO) from countries whose electronics industries rely on a steady supply of the metals.

2014 Chevrolet Volt

2014 Chevrolet Volt

China imposed restrictions on the export of 17 rare-earth metals in 2009, but it couldn't prove to a WTO panel convened last year that the limits were justified.

The U.S., European Union, and Japan initially complained that China was limiting exports in a bid to drive up prices.

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That view was upheld by the WTO, which also claimed China's export quotas were intended to give domestic manufacturers an advantage by granting them less-costly access to the materials.

The restrictions certainly haven't hurt Chinese industry.

2014 Toyota Prius V

2014 Toyota Prius V

China is estimated to account for 90 percent of rare-earth production, despite having only one third of the world's deposits.

The country's Ministry of Commerce issued new trade guidelines at the end of December, officially doing away with the quotas.

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The guidelines still require an export license for rare-earth metals, but there is no longer any restriction on the amount that can be sold abroad.

That should be good news for international manufacturers of electronics, batteries, and electric motors--as well as the carmakers that use them.


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