Despite the rarity of such unified action at WTO, I am sure very few people noticed it. And I am guessing, you are asking the obvious question: why do you think we are interested in trade disputes?
Well, there is something quite important about these metals and we need to keep an eye on them to understand a lot of neo-colonial incidents that are taking place and will continue to do so in the near future..
Rare Earths are 17 chemical elements in the Periodical Table: Scandium, Yttrium and 15 lanthanides. They are essential for the manufacture of most high tech equipment:
Rare earth metals are crucial in the manufacture of a range of high-tech commercial and military products, from cell phones to gasoline-electric cars, wind turbines, catalytic converters, avionics devices, and advanced weapons.Despite their moniker "rare" with the exception of promethium, these elements are not particularly scarce. They can be found all over the world, notably Mongolia, Brasil, India, Central and South Africa, the US, Australia and a host of other regions. Oddly, China has roughly 37 percent of proven reserves but it supplies 97 percent of the global demand.
In recent years, it curtailed its exports to other countries and in a few instances it stopped selling them as a retaliation to unrelated incidents. So, the rationale of the WTO case is to force China to give up its arbitrary control over these metals. And, you are right, in and of itself a trade dispute would not be a big deal.
What interests me is the cut-throat race to grab these resources behind this case. There is also a whole new application for one of these metals and this could turn the whole thing into an even bloodier fight.
First a bit of background.