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Clinton hopes rare earth trade to continue unabated

HONOLULU (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday she hoped a Chinese statement it would not use rare earth minerals as a bargaining chip meant their trade would continue uninterrupted.

Earlier, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said China would not use its dominance of global rare earths supplies, vital to many high-tech products, as a "bargaining tool" with foreign economies.

"I hadn't heard about the Chinese statement of today but I would welcome any clarification of their policy and hope that it means trade and commerce around these important materials will continue unabated and without any interference," Clinton told a news conference with Japan's foreign minister.

"At the same time, because of the importance of these rare earth minerals, I think both the minister and I are aware that our countries and others will have to look for additional sources of supply," she added.

"This served as a wake-up call," she said. "So we welcome the Chinese statement that it will resume normal trading in these materials but I think the entire world has to seek additional supplies," she said.

China supplies about 97 percent of the world's demand for rare earths metals, which possess magnetic, luminescent and other properties used in emerging clean energy technologies, computers and electronics.

But Beijing has curtailed exports, saying it needs to protect reserves from reckless exploitation. This year, it has slashed export quotas to about 40 percent below 2009 levels.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)