China is stockpiling the precious minerals that make up every mobile phone, effectively monopolising future phone production, according to the EU, US and Japan.
The group of countries has taken their complaint to the World Trade Organisation. They are specifically challenging China’s export restrictions on the raw materials that go into mobiles, including 17 rare earths used in high-tech products, tungsten and molybdenum.
While the elements, sometimes referred to as conflict minerals, aren't as rare as diamonds, they only exist only in small deposits, which makes extracting them expensive.
The complaint has precedence. Earlier this year, the WTO ruled in favour of the EU, finding that China had illegally restricted the export of bauxite, zinc and magnesium which all contribute to phone manufacture.
CNN reports that Barack Obama yesterday made a statement at the White House announcing the complaint: "We want our companies building those products right here in America," Obama said. "But to do that, American manufacturers need to have access to rare earth materials which China supplies. Now, if China would simply let the market work on its own, we'd have no objections."