China raises annual rare earth mining quota to record high in 2020

Excavators dig rare earth on a field of Jiangxi Copper Corp’s Sichuan branch on February 18, 2011 in Chengdu, Sichuan Province of China. (Image by 62|Shutterstock.com)

China hiked its mining quota for rare earth minerals by 6.1% in 2020 to a record annual high, the natural resources ministry said, as the country seeks to ramp up production of the prized minerals.

China is the world’s dominant producer of rare earths, a group of 17 minerals used in everything from consumer electronics to military equipment. The quotas are closely watched as a supply indicator and typically issued twice a year.

The full-year rare earth mining quota has been set at 140,000 tonnes for 2020, up from 132,000 last year and includes 120,850 tonnes of light rare earth ore and 19,150 tonnes of heavy rare earth ore, a notice from the Ministry of Natural Resources said on Wednesday.

That includes a 66,000 tonne quota granted for the first half of the year and implies a quota of 74,000 tonnes for mining in the second half of 2020, up from 72,000 tonnes the same period in 2019.

China has raised the annual quota for three years in a row.

The notice did not mention a smelting and separation quota for the processing of rare earth ore into material that can be used by manufacturers. The first-half quota was set at 63,500 tonnes in early July.

“It’s unclear why the smelting and mining quotas are being staggered as they have been,” David Merriman, a London-based manager at consultancy Roskill, said in an email.

He expected refined production of rare earths in China to account for 87% of global production in 2020.

China exported 21,115 tonnes of rare earths in the January – June period, down 9.1% from a year earlier.

The ministry also set the tungsten concentrate mining quota as 105,000 tonnes in 2020, unchanged from last year. Tungsten is a metal used to harden steel and make cutting tools.

(By Min Zhang, Tom Daly and Meg Shen; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Richard Pullin)

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