US threat to reimpose sanctions on Myanmar may drive up prices of rare earth, insiders say
Published: Feb 02, 2021 06:50 PM

File photo: VCG

China's rare earths imports have remained unaffected by the political event in Myanmar, according to industry insiders, but the long-term impact, including potential US sanctions on the country, may weigh on rare earth price.

China's rare earth market has been heavily dependent on the ores from Myanmar, which previously contributed around half of China's total heavy rare earth consumption, analysts said.

Chen Zhanheng, an industry insider told the Global Times that Myanmar has taken a crucial role in the provision of heavy rare earth in China since authorities leveled up environmental standards in 2015. In 2020, more than half of the heavy rare earth was imported from Myanmar, according to Chen.

"Mining of heavy rare earth is largely restricted in China, despite the fact that has always been strong demand," Chen said, adding last year, the total domestic production is less than 10,000 tons.

According to Chen, the political event in Myanmar has not affected the supply chain from the rare earths mines to Chinese market, because most of the mines are located in the north of the country and are under control of the Myanmar army. 

However, Chen noted that uncertainties still persist, depending on how the political event will evolve, and whether the US will impose sanctions on Myanmar that might impact its trade with others.

On Tuesday the US threatened to reimpose sanctions gradually rolled back by former President Barack Obama after Myanmar's generals initiated democratic reforms, Reuters reported. "The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action," the report said, citing US President Joe Biden.

Meng Qingjiang, another expert in the heavy rare earth market in China, said that domestic demands for the raw material would likely rise over the coming year as China's economy rapidly recovers will boost demand for rare earth. 

In 2019, disruptions in Myanmar's rare earths supply chain caused price fluctuation in China's market. In November and December 2019, Myanmar cut its rare earth supplies to China, sending price of some rare-earth ores by more up 15 percent.

Some companies involved in the rare earth industry saw their stocks rise Tuesday afternoon, including China Rare Earth, which climbed more than 12 percent. 

Global Times