China’s rare earth exports plunge to record low in 2020: GAC
Published: Jan 14, 2021 03:58 PM

A worker unloads rare earths along the Yangtze River's banks in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality on May 9. Photo: IC

China's total export volume of rare earths dropped 23.5 percent year-on-year in 2020, China's customs authority said on Thursday, registering the lowest figure in five years, according to media report. 

Total exports of rare earths were down to 35,447.5 tons for the whole of 2020, according to the General Administration of Customs on Thursday, the lowest figure since 2015.

China's exports of rare earths have been decreasing in recent years. In 2019, the total export volume was down by 12.6 percent year-on year. 

Liu Enqiao, a senior energy analyst at the Beijing-based Anbound Consulting, said that the drop in rare earths exports is partly the result of China's efforts to upgrade the sector, encouraging more high-end production and reducing exports of rare earth ore raw materials. 

"Rare earth ore exports are limited in value, and the global demand for raw materials is relatively low," Liu said, "China has been working for years to add value in the production chain of rare earth products, especially in encouraging more intellectual property rights around rare earth production technologies."

Liu also noted that the fluctuations in the export volume of rare earths might be partly due to China's tightening of regulations on strategic resources.

A new Chinese law introduced in December will restrict exports of controlled items, which experts said will increase market supply volatility of some products and technologies, including rare earths.

The law, passed by the country's top legislative body in October, stipulates that China will impose restrictions or bans on exports of military and nuclear products, as well as other goods, to protect the national interest and security.

Although the actual impact of the new law on China's exports is yet to become clear, it has already sent ripples through certain industries, such as inflating rare-earth prices. 

In November, shortly after the announcement of the new law, neodymium oxide rose 11.56 percent to 511,500 yuan ($77,900) per ton and praseodymium oxide rose 8.08 percent to 441,500 yuan per ton, with other materials also rising to varying degrees, according to open source data.

Global Times