Rare earth elements were talked about during a meeting between Greek PM Antonis Samaras and Li Keqiang 李克强 last week in Milan (Η Καθημερινή). Official Chinese accounts of the meeting seem to make no mention of rare earths or any other mining.
In early September, a Chinese delegation that included Minmetals assistant president Wang Jionghui 王炯辉 visited Greece to discuss cooperation in rare earth exploration. During the visit, Greek environment and energy minister Yannis Maniatis Γιάννης Μανιάτης emphasised the potential of rare earth deposits in Greece, one of a handful of European countries with significant REE reserves. (The others are the Nordic countries, where interest in REE is increasing. An example: Tasman’s Norra Kärr project in southern Sweden.)
Minmetals (五矿) is one of the six fortunate conglomerates the Chinese rare earth industry is being consolidated into.
China has a near-monopoly on rare earth production worldwide, but that is not preventing Chinese companies from starting to look at REE deposits abroad with interest, in places like Australia, South Africa and Vietnam. And Greenland, of course, as I’ve mentioned in the past.
Among the deals signed during Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Greece is a $13m “long term cooperation agreement” between Alagni, Crete-based olive oil producer Emelko (ΕΜΕΛΚΟ ΕΠΕ) and importer Shanghai Chaoshang Food Ltd (上海巢尚食品有限公司). Emelko have already been selling oil to China for several years.
Last year I wrote in some length about Chinese interest in olive oil in Greece, Spain and Australia (‘China hits the grove‘).
ABC Rural reports fear among Australian olive oil exporters of not being able to get their merchandise through Chinese customs unless it tests free of plasticisers, for example one called DEHP (di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate 邻苯二甲酸二（2－乙基）己酯).
It’s not particularly clear if a new regulation, a decision to enforce an old one, or anything specific at all motivates the fear and the ABC story. The Chinese have been testing imported goods for phthalates for more than a year: in March 2013, for example, a consignment of Greek olive oil with too much DEHP was rejected in Nanjing, and French wine and spirits were hit around the some time. That particular round of foreign-targeted inspections followed, characteristically enough, reports that high levels of the toxic substance were present in local top-brand baijiu Maotai. The distiller said the reports were false, and that neither the authorities cared nor the company was able to check as they didn’t have the equipment. An industry association apparently does have it: they checked, and reported that all booze in China has some plasticiser, the higher-end, the more of it.
If stricter tests are actually being applied to Australian olive oil, some of the affected might actually be Chinese: around one sixth of Australian olive-growing land by my calculations are in Chinese hands, and the WSJ quotes industry sources as attributing 10% of current production to “Chinese and Asian investors”. Some time ago I discussed (‘China hits the grove‘) Chinese interest in olive groves and processing plants, not just in Australia but also in Greece (where in particular Chongqing Grain 重庆粮食集团 bought a plant, possibly but unconfirmedly Nutria) and Spain (where e.g. Xilu Kangyuan owns plantations; another deal said to involve HNA 海航 apparently didn’t materialise).