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On Wednesday, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that China has broken international trade law in its efforts to restrict the export of rare earth minerals, as well as tungsten and molybdenum, to the world. If China does not reform its policies regarding rare earth metals, it could be subject to trade sanctions from the US, the EU, and Japan.

Rare earth metals like praseodymium, cerium, and neodymium are vital to digital technology—they are essential to the workings of fiber optic cables and wind turbines, to say nothing of the chip in your smartphone, which can contain up to 60 different elements. And rare earths are almost exclusively mined in China, which has made for some interesting economic politics in the last decade.

China's predominance in the market led the US to file a case against the country at the WTO in 2012 after China cut its export quota by 40 percent in 2010. The supply shortage sent rare earth metal prices skyrocketing, according to The New York Times.

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