Vietnam rare earths output drops as China’s grows, US says

A sample of a clay containing rare earths. (Image by Patrick Mansell, courtesy of Penn State University).

The US geological agency has sharply revised down estimates on Vietnam’s rare earths output and expects a further drop despite its rich resource base, according to an annual report, which showed a rise in dominant producer China’s output.

The US Geological Survey’s (USGS) estimates, published late in January, came only a few months after Vietnamese authorities arrested in October corporate executives who were partnering with Western companies to develop rare earths mining projects in Vietnam. There is no clear link between the USGS revision and the arrests.

Rare earths are used in multiple industries, including electric vehicles, auto batteries and renewables, and have several applications in electronic and military products.

Despite having the world’s second-largest deposits, estimated at around 22 million tons of rare earths oxide (REO) equivalent, Vietnam extracted only 1,200 tons in 2022, the statistics from the USGS show, down from 4,300 tons the agency had previously estimated for 2022.

Output fell to just 600 tons last year, according to USGS’s new data, despite Vietnam’s plans to boost output to about 20,000-60,000 tons a year by the end of the decade.

The USGS did not immediately reply to a request for comment about its revised estimates. Vietnam does not publish data on its rare earths mining output nor on its trade of the minerals.

While Vietnam’s estimated output fell, the USGS estimated global rare earths mining production grew to 350,000 tons last year from 300,000 tons in 2022, largely due to an increase in China’s output to 240,000 tons from 210,000 tons as Beijing raised its quotas last year.

Myanmar’s production tripled to 38,000 tons in 2023 from 12,000 tons a year earlier.

Hobbled plans?

Before the arrests over allegations of illegal trading, Vietnam was planning new tenders for mining concessions at its largest rare earths mine, which is still largely untapped, Reuters reported in September, citing an executive at Australia’s mining company Blackstone Minerals Ltd.

Blackstone and Vietnam’s environment ministry, which is in charge of mining projects, did not immediately reply to requests for comment about whether the tenders were still planned.

Australian Strategic Materials, another mining company, had also partnered with VTRE in May for the supply of about 100 tons of rare earths oxides by the end of last year. The company did not immediately reply to a request for comment about the state of that deal.

The United States has agreed to boost cooperation on rare earths with Vietnam, whose large untapped resources are seen as an alternative source of the minerals. China has the world’s largest deposits, with 44 million tons estimated, and dominates the extraction and processing of the critical minerals.

The USGS revised down its estimates of US rare earths reserves to 1.8 million tons from 2.3 million previously estimated. It also halved its estimates for Russia’s deposits to 10 million tons from 21 millions.

The US embassy in Hanoi had no immediate comment.

(By Francesco Guarascio and Khanh Vu; Editing by Martin Petty, Tom Hogue and Sonali Paul)


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