China’s exports of rare earths in 2023 rose 7.3% from the prior year, customs data showed on Friday, boosted by competitive prices and growing overseas demand from electric vehicle makers and other high-tech sectors.
The world’s largest producer of rare earths shipped 52,307 metric tons of the minerals abroad last year, the highest since 2018, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.
Demand for rare earths picked up in line with the rapid development of new energy vehicles, wind power and inverter air conditioners, analysts said. The minerals are also used widely in lasers, military equipment and consumer electronics.
China has been engaged in an escalating battle over control of critical minerals and last year introduced restrictions on exports of germanium, gallium and some graphite products, which are used in semiconductors and electric vehicle batteries.
That fanned fears that rare earths might be the next target, spurring a rush of buying.
Europe and the United States are trying to wean themselves from dependence on rare earths from China, which accounts for nearly 90% of global refined output.
The increase in demand, however, lagged a rise in supply, weighing on prices for much of last year, although fears of supply disruptions stoked by a mining suspension in Myanmar pushed prices to a 20-month high last September.
China has set its 2023 rare earth mining quota at 255,000 metric tons and the annual smelting and separation quota at 243,850 tons, both up more than 20% from the year before.
The spot price for praseodymium neodymium oxide at the end of last year was down 34% from a year earlier, at 457,500 yuan a ton, data from consultancy Shanghai Metals Market (SMM) showed.
China’s exports of the 17 minerals classified as rare earths fell 18.2% in December from the previous month, to 3,439 tons, the customs data showed. That was down 20% from December 2022.
China’s imports of rare earths last month were up 45% on the year at 16,381 tons, while the 2023 total climbed 44.8% from a year earlier to 175,853 tons.
(By Amy Lv and Andrew Hayley; Editing by Edmund Klamann)