China’s rare earth exports bounced back in December from a four-and-a-half-year low the previous month as buyers ramped up purchases ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, though annual shipments still sank to their lowest in four years, hit by weaker global manufacturing demand.
China, the world’s dominant producer of rare earths – a group of 17 minerals used in consumer electronics and military equipment – exported 3,657 tonnes of the material in December, data from the General Administration of Customs released on Tuesday showed.
That was up 39% from 2,636 tonnes in November, the lowest monthly total since May 2015, but still a third lower than the bumper 5,421 tonnes exported in December 2018.
“December exports tend to rise as buyers look to stock up in advance of the Chinese holiday season,” Ryan Castilloux, managing director of consultancy Adamas Intelligence said by email ahead of the data release.
China will celebrate the week-long Lunar New Year holiday from Jan. 24.
Full-year rare earth shipments came in at 46,330 tonnes in 2019, the lowest annual total since 2015, the data showed.
“On the year, exports have been weakened by a sluggish manufacturing sector – particularly in the U.S. and Japan – due in large part to the ongoing U.S.-China trade war,” Castilloux said.
Beijing in May last year raised the prospect of limiting rare earth exports to the United States in retaliation for U.S. tariffs, although it did not publicly announce any restrictions.
It has since raised annual rare earth output quotas to record highs and is set to sign a ‘Phase 1’ deal in Washington this week to resolve the long-running Sino-U.S. trade row.
(By Tom Daly; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Kenneth Maxwell)