Create FREE account or log in

to receive MINING.COM digests

Rare earths trade between China, Myanmar facing challenges

China-Myanmar border. (Image by David and Jessie Cowhig, Flickr).

Following a new closure of the China-Myanmar border in mid-December, Roskill reports that some Chinese rare earths producers and operators in Myanmar have been asked to head back to their country which, in the view of the market analyst, means that supply to the Asian giant may decline in 2020.

According to Roskill, following the initial closure of the border in May 2019, Myanmar’s supply of rare earths oxide (REO) to China declined by 28.7% year-on-year, a figure that may be even lower in the new year. In 2018, the volume of heavy rare earth compounds delivered from Myanmar to China is estimated to have accounted for over 16% of global REO equivalent supply.

Shipments of rare earths between China and Myanmar have never been recognised as “legal” trading, with all deals being settled in RMB via third party agents

“The existing rare earth compound stocks from Myanmar are unknown, but according to some market participants approximately 1kt REO was delivered into China during the late-October to mid-December period,” Roskill informed in a recent report.

In the document, the market specialist states that the border situation puts pressure on the supply of heavy rare earths, particularly of the elements dysprosium and terbium, as the suspension of southern China’s rare earth operations shows no sign of reversal. 

“Spot prices of Dy and Tb have oscillated in line with the opening and closing of the Myanmar border as supply of these low-volume elements quickly tightens,” the report reads. “Roskill expects that significant stocks (including from illegal supply) of mixed and separated compounds are still held by major SOEs and that supply availability will be able to account for 2020 demand.”