Time for innovative and enterprising thinking

Sunday, January 20, 2013

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HISTORY has many examples of people and nations capitalising on the opportunities present in adversity.

Some countries have done well, and certainly better than others in the current global economic crisis. Jamaica, like those countries that have not responded successfully to the negative repercussions of the world recession, suffer from a failure of vision in public policy and a shortage of an innovative and enterprising mindset in the population at large.

An example of innovative response is Jamaica's continued success in tourism, despite the global economic crisis. Just as impressive is the consistent development of Wisynco, which, we hold, is a reflection of innovative enterprising leadership.

It is against this background that we congratulate Minister Phillip Paulwell on his initiative to capitalise on the interest of a Japanese firm to extract rare earth metals from the red mud residue of our alumina plants. If this is successful, it will — as we stated earlier this week — bring economic benefits and may alleviate a serious environmental problem.

Red mud has a high concentration of some rare earth metals. Seventeen chemical elements, specifically lanthanides, scandium and yttrium, make up these rare earth metals. The elements are typically dispersed and not often found concentrated in economically exploitable ore deposits. This is what creates an opportunity for Jamaica.

What is also important is our move to seize the moment when there are opportunities. China produces 90 - 95 per cent of the world's supply of rare earth metals, minerals/elements, mostly in Inner Mongolia, and Japan imports 60 per cent of that. They are valuable and in demand because they are used in the production of electronics.

The rapid increase in demand in recent years has led to a shortage, and if production is not increased the shortage will worsen and price hikes will mirror the demand/supply gap. In addition to the natural scarcity of rare earth metals, China, the leading producer, has since 2009 instituted measures to limit supply so as to conserve scarce resources and protect the environment.

Other measures such as a series of reduced quotas, which commenced in 2011, were aimed at restricting exports. As a result of these market conditions, several countries are stockpiling rare earth metals and exploration has been stimulated in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Greenland, Tanzania, Vietnam and the United States.

Given high prices and new recycling technology, the extraction of rare earth metals from electronic waste has become commercially viable. Recycling plants are currently operating in France, as well as in Japan where there is an estimated 300,000 tons of rare earth metals stored in unused electronics.

As long as all environmental concerns are properly addressed there is no reason that we cannot capitalise on this industry which, we hold, represents innovative and enterprising thinking.

Fiscal consolidation, debt restructuring, tax reform, an IMF programme and devaluation will not produce economic growth without innovation and enterprise.




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