Rare Earth Element Exports and Stocks Increase

Statistics reveal that China produces up to 97 percent of the world’s rare earth elements (REE) which are essential for the manufacture of many of the world’s latest technology products, including hybrid vehicles, consumer electronics, wind turbines and a host of so-called ‘clean energy’ technologies. A group of seventeen elements are classed as rare earth elements*, or rare earth minerals, which are found in very low concentrations, resulting in them being costly to extract.

Although the United States has an estimated thirteen percent of the world’s total reserves, with China having an estimated thirty percent, it has been cheaper for the United States to import its REE requirements from China than to produce these locally. With China dominating the REE market it is in the position to set production and export quotas, and thereby influence prices of these much sought after minerals. In 2012 China set the export quota at 30,996 tons, but only exported 13,000 tons, even though export restrictions had been eased, apparently to appease its primary customers – Europe, Japan and the United States – which had laid a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) that China’s export restrictions were inflating REE prices.

So, with the increasing international demand for REEs and China’s increased export quotas, the fact that exports for 2012 only totaled 13,000 tons is puzzling – unless the illegal trading of REEs is taken into account. In 2010 authorities launched a campaign to crack down on illegal extraction and selling of REEs. As the campaign has started to take effect, so legal exports of REEs has increased. Exports for the first seven months of 2013 have totaled 11,185 tons, indicating that with five months to go, 2013 figures will outstrip the 13,000 tons exported in 2012.

*The seventeen Rare Earth Elements are Scandium, Yttrium, Lanthanum, Cerium, Praseodymium, Neodymium, Promethium, Samarium, Europium, Gadolinium, Terbium, Dysprosium, Holmium, Erbium, Thulium, Ytterbium and Lutetium.