China’s exports of rare earth magnets to the United States jumped 11.9% in 2019, customs data showed on Friday, amid a Pentagon plan to bolster its stocks as rare earths became a potential front in the Sino-US trade war.
US-bound shipments of the magnets, which are widely used in medical devices, consumer electronics and defence, rose to 4,593 tonnes last year, according to data from the General Administration of Customs, from 4,103 tonnes in 2018.
The 2019 number is the highest annual total in customs database records going back to 2017.
China, the world’s top producer of rare earth magnets, in May last year sparked concerns it could restrict the supply of rare earth products in its trade row with Washington. However, Beijing ultimately did not announce any formal measures and earlier this month inked a Phase 1 deal to ease the hostilities.
China’s rare earth magnet production achieved steady growth in 2019, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said last week.
For December, rare earth magnet shipments to the United States came in at 360 tonnes, down 4.5% from 376 tonnes in November but up 1.1% year-on-year.
The US military is seeking to stockpile neodymium iron boron magnets, a type of rare earth magnet essential to weapons manufacturing, Reuters reported last month.
(By Muyu Xu and Tom Daly; Editing by Richard Pullin)