China rare earth exports recover as Lunar New Year nears


Rare earth exports from China recovered from a four-and-a-half-year low in December, as buyers increased purchases more than a week before the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday. But yearly shipments declined to the lowest in four years as rare earth exports were hit by weakened global manufacturing demand.

Rare earths, or the group of 17 minerals that are used in military equipment and consumer electronics, are among the top products of China. The country leads in producing the minerals, as shown in the 3,657 tonnes of exports in December accounted by the General Administration of Customs.

The figures were 39% higher compared to November’s exports of 2,636 tonnes. this figure was a third lower when compared to the 5,421 tonnes of exports in December 2018.

“December exports tend to rise as buyers look to stock up in advance of the Chinese holiday season,” managing director of consultancy Ryan Castillouz at Adams Intelligence said by email.

The Chinese Lunar New Year holiday is a week-long celebration that will begin in Jan. 24.

The rare earth shipments for the whole year amounted to 46,330 tonnes, which was the lowest yearly total since 2015.

“On the year, exports have been weakened by a sluggish manufacturing sector - particularly in the U.S. and Japan - due in large part to the ongoing U.S.-China trade war,” Castilloux said.

In May 2019, Beijing hinted of limiting rare earth exports to the United States in response to the US tariffs, although no restriction was announced.

China has since increased annual rare earth output quotas as the “Phase One” deal with Washington is underway, raising hopes of ending the long-running trade war.

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