The European Union (EU) has welcomed the ruling, urging Beijing to bring its export regime in line with international rules without delay.

Following an 18-month investigation into the case jointly brought by the EU, the US and Mexico, the WTO ruled that export restrictions imposed by Beijing were inadequate protection for the environment as long as the extraction of raw materials remains unrestricted in China.

“This is a clear verdict for open trade and fair access to raw materials,” EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said in a statement, issued on 5 July. “All countries will benefit when access to raw materials is ensured on a level and non-discriminatory basis,” the European Commission added.

The US also expressed its satisfaction, saying that the ruling “represents a significant victory for manufacturers and workers in the United States and the rest of the world.”

China had invoked environmental concerns arising from the production of the metals as a reason to restrict their exports by introducing quotas, export duties, a minimum export price system, as well as additional requirements and procedures for exporters.

The EU hopes that the WTO ruling will have a positive impact on China’s export policy on other raw materials, including in particular rare earth metals, where a quota system to limit export is in place. Over recent years, it has been decreasing the volumes for the EU from about 50,000 tonnes in 2009 to around 30,000 in 2010.

Following the WTO ruling on raw materials, China’s Ministry of Commerce announced its plans to bring the country’s export policy on rare earths in line with WTO rules.