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Rare Earths, Oil, Gas, Other Commodities Up For Grabs As Arctic States Grants China, India, Japan, Other Select Nations ‘Observer Status’

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | May 16, 2013 3:56 PM EST

It won't be long before the essential raw minerals and commodities of the planet's Far North such as rare earths, oil and gas get gobbled up by the industrialists.

On Wednesday, the Arctic Council granted China, India, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea and Singapore new Observer States status. Essentially, the six nations gained rightful entry to listen in on meetings of the council, as well as propose and finance policies.

Observers, however, do not have powers related to decision making within the council.

"Many of the applicants wrote that they wanted to become observers because they are interested in arctic science," Swedish Arctic Council Chairman Gustaf Lind said.

Observers are expected to recognise the sovereignty of countries in the Arctic as well as respect the indigenous people's values and culture.

The council is composed of eight permanent Arctic nations, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S.

"This is exactly what we hoped for," Espen Barth Eide, Norwegian Foreign Minister, told The Wall Street Journal. Although it was reported that Russia was not keen on expanding the elite club, Mr Barth Eide explained the expansion makes the council "a lot more relevant to the whole world."

Responsible for coordinating Arctic policy, the council viewed the expansion would help it its clout on issues such as natural resources and climate change in the region.

As sea ice thaws revealing new trade routes, more and more nations are competing to get hold of the region's massive undiscovered oil and gas reserves, which are estimated at 15 per cent and 30 per cent respectively.

It also has rich reserves of gold, tin, lead, nickel and copper. Greenland has been touted to hold the world's biggest deposits of rare earths.

"China will first get to know the Arctic better, and then it is able to join effectively international cooperation," Gao Feng, head of China's delegation to the Eighth Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council, said on Wednesday.

The Kiruna Declaration was also signed during the meeting, which recognised "the importance of maintaining peace, stability and constructive cooperation in the Arctic," as well as "the importance of the sustainable use of resources, economic development and environmental protection."

It also reiterated the urgent need for increased national and global actions to "mitigate and adapt to climate change."

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