The actions cite China's restriction on exports of 17 forms of rare earths, in addition to tungsten and molybdenum. They state that China administers these export restrictions through its ministries, as well as "other organizations under the State Council and various chambers of commerce and industry association." They also state that it appears that China administers the export restrictions and associated requirements and procedures "in a manner that is not uniform, impartial, reasonable, or transparent," and "through measures that are not published."
Karel De Gucht, the EU's trade commissioner, made an even more forceful statement than Obama. "China's restrictions on rare earths and other products violate international trade rules and must be removed," he said. "These measures hurt our producers and consumers in the EU and across the world, including manufacturers. Despite the clear ruling of the WTO in our first dispute on raw materials, China has made no attempt to remove the other export restrictions. This leaves us no choice but to challenge China's export regime again to ensure fair access for our businesses to these materials."
An earlier Design News article on US manufacturing implied by its title that Obama has been timid in taking action to improve US technical manufacturing jobs. I agreed with that view until I read about this WTO action. I don't entirely agree with the conclusion that we should compete with China, where so many jobs have already gone, and not litigate. The whole point of the rare earth issue is that China's stance is making it extremely difficult to compete by unfair restriction of trade. So competition alone is not enough.
Litigation presents an uneasy scenario. The purpose of global organizations such as the WTO are to hold court, in the more old-fashioned, non-judicial sense of talking things out among one's peers. The WTO's description of its settlement process includes the statement that most of its disputes have not gone further than the consultation stage, "either because a satisfactory settlement was found, or because the complainant decided for other reasons not to pursue the matter further." In other words, most of them rarely reach litigation. I hope this one doesn't. But if China refuses to cooperate on the rare earth issue, the US -- and Japan and the EU -- may have to do both: compete and litigate.