December 19, 2011
CHINESE authorities have barred the world’s largest rare earths producer from exporting due to ”environmental concerns”, in a move likely to significantly affect global supply.
Baotou Steel, which accounts for nearly half of the world’s rare earths production, has been excluded from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce’s list of 11 approved exporters for next year. The list was released last week.
China dominates more than 95 per cent of worldwide production and tightly controls the export of the strategic elements through a quota system.
Baotou also failed to make a recent list of companies that had passed environmental assessment standards maintained by the Ministry of Environmental Protection in China and must now rectify its faults to be considered for a second round of approvals, a ministry official said.
”Baotou is the world’s largest producer and has the highest quota for export and production,” a Chinese industry insider said on Friday, according to Shanghai Securities News. ”It is unimaginable for the industry if it loses its quota because of environmental concerns.”
The lost exports from Baotou could lead to acute supply constraints and potentially prompt a surge in rare earths prices, mirroring a similar spike when China banned exports to Japan late last year over a diplomatic row.
This would benefit rare earths miners racing to be among the first non-Chinese producers, including the Australian miners Lynas, Arafura Resources and Alkane Resources, and other international majors including California’s Molycorp.
”If the [rare earths] price reacts, it will be pretty positive for those companies,” one analyst said.
Rare earths are coveted for the crucial role they play in the manufacture of many cutting-edge technologies, including mobile phones, iPads, wide-screen televisions and hybrid car batteries.
Baotou halted its production for more than a month in October, in response to rapidly falling rare earths prices.
At the time, it said it was trying to provide price support in the market by regulating the supply, but it was widely speculated that environmental concerns were at the root of the production halt.
By: Peter Cai, Philip Wen