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China to cut exports of rare earth minerals

Keith Bradsher

The Chinese government plans a further reduction, of up to 30 per cent, next year in its quotas for exports of rare earth minerals, to try to conserve dwindling reserves of the materials, the official China Daily newspaper said on October 19.

Plans for smaller export quotas come just four days after American trade officials announced that they would investigate whether China is violating international trade rules with a wide range of policies to help its clean energy industries. One of the policies under investigation involves China's steady reductions in rare earth export quotas since 2005 and its imposition of steep taxes on these exports.

Applications

China mines 95 per cent of the world's rare earths. They are crucial for compact fluorescent bulbs, hybrid gasoline-electric cars, large wind turbines and other clean energy technologies, as well as for mobile phones and a wide range of military applications, like missiles.

Chao Ning, a Commerce Ministry official, told a conference in Beijing on October 16 that China had sizeable reserves of the lighter elements among the 17 rare earth elements, but only had 15 or 20 years' worth of reserves left of medium and heavy rare earths and needed to conserve those. Light rare earths are used in lower-tech applications like oil refining and glass manufacturing, while medium and heavy rare earths are used more in clean energy and military applications.

China Daily is owned and supervised by the Chinese government, and presents official views on a range of issues. Its article attributed the planned quota reduction to an unidentified Commerce Ministry official.

Bloomberg News quoted another commerce ministry official, Jiang Fan, who said at a conference in Xiamen that she was not aware of plans for a further reduction in rare earths.

Wang Caifeng, the secretary-general of the Chinese Rare Earths Industry Association, predicted at the conference that domestic demand for rare earths in China would soar to 130,000 tons in 2015, from 75,000 tons now, Bloomberg reported. The export quotas for this year total just 30,300 tons.

Commerce Ministry representatives in Beijing did not answer calls for comment.— © New York Times News Service

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