China’s rare earths exports fall in May; shipments usually volatile

Baotou City: Epicentre of China’s rare earth industry. (Image by Matthew Stinson)

Rare earth exports by China, the world’s dominant producer, fell 16% in May from a month earlier amid an increased focus on the raw materials due to the Sino-U.S. trade war, although the drop was in line with usual trading.

Exports by China, the key supplier of a group of 17 chemical elements used in everything from high-tech consumer electronics to military equipment, swing sharply from month to month, often by 20 percent or more, customs data shows.

May’s exports fell to 3,640 tonnes from 4,329 tonnes in April, but were not far off the 4,264-tonne monthly average since January 2018, according to data published on Monday by China’s General Administration of Customs.

Rare earth prices recently hit multi-year highs following a flurry of state media reports that Beijing could use its supply-dominance of the prized minerals in its trade war with Washington.

China is home to at least 85% of the world’s capacity to process rare earth ores into material that manufacturers can use, according to research firm Adamas Intelligence.

It supplied 80% of the rare earths imported by the United States from 2014 to 2017.

A visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in May to a rare earths plant fuelled the speculation that China would use its dominant position in rare earths as leverage in the trade war.

(By Shivani Singh; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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