The trading companies Toyota Tsusho Corp and Sojitz Corp., and a Vietnamese government-run resource development company will launch a joint venture to start developing a major earth mineral site in Vietnam in the next fiscal year.

More than 90% of these rare minerals are imported from China. Japan hopes that obtaining Vietnam's cooperation will secure a more stable supply.

The two countries plan to develop the Dong Pao deposits, about 280 kilometres northwest of Hanoi.

The joint venture will begin commercial mining operations as early as 2011, supplying about 5,000 tonnes of the minerals, or about a quarter of Japan's annual consumption, for about 20 years.

Toyota Tsusho and Sojitz plan to acquire 49% of the deposit rights, but an Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry official said, "The majority of the unearthed minerals are highly likely to be exported to Japan."

Rare earth minerals, such as the elements lanthanum, cerium and neodymium, are indispensable in the manufacture of permanent magnets for products such as hybrid vehicle motors and computer hard disks. Demand for the minerals is expected to continue growing.

At a meeting held in mid-January in Ha Long, Vietnam, Vietnamese government officials informed Senior vice Economy, Trade and Industry minister Takamori Yoshikawa that it would ensure that Japan received a stable supply of rare minerals.

The Japanese government plans to support the resources development project by having Japan Oil, Gas and Metal National Corp conduct geological surveys of the planned area and have official development assistance used to build roads and bridges.

The Yomiuri Shimbun - January 28, 2009