Export quota for rare earths to stay the same

Updated: 2012-12-20 07:46

By Wang Zhuoqiong (China Daily)

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The export quota for rare earths will be unchanged next year despite decade-low exports this year, industry leaders said.

The price of rare earths should remain stable and better reflect their true value, and export volumes in 2013 will be similar to those of 2012, Liu Yinan, vice-chairman of the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters, told China Daily on Wednesday.

In the nine months to October, 9,967 metric tons were exported, according to the China Customs Statistics Information Center.

That is just one-third of China's 2012 quota of 30,996 tons.

China supplies 90 percent of the world's rare earths, the collective name of 17 elements needed to manufacture various high-tech products.

Export volumes dropped 11.5 percent from a year ago, and were valued at $702 million, a fall of 61.5 percent. Exports this year are estimated to reach about 12,000 tons, Liu said, a 10-year low.

Last year, 16,900 tons of rare earths were exported. During the peak in 2003, exports hit 70,000 tons.

Liu attributed the slump to the slowdown in the global economy that has weakened demand from major importers such as Japan and the United States.

Rising prices last year forced many manufacturers to switch to other materials or seek new markets for rare earths.

Mining operations have started in countries that had not been exporting rare earths.

Lynas Corp, a mining company in Australia, is expected to begin yielding 22,000 tons of rare earths annually by late 2013.

Molycorp in the United States said it has the ability to produce 40,000 tons of rare earths a year.

Miners in India and Russia are also providing new resources.

Liu said the price of some rare earth products has fluctuated wildly over the past two years.

Du Shuaibing, an analyst at Baichuan Information, which focuses on analyzing the market for raw materials, said price and demand will be higher in 2013 as the global economy improves.

"The price will be higher than this year, but supply will still exceed demand," Du said.

Fluctuating prices are driving potential buyers away, he said.

"If they don't have faith in the price, there will be no deals, no demand," he said.