China sets rare earth export quotas

Rare earth elements, also known as green elements, are a group of seventeen metals, whose unique properties have made them indispensable for clean energy technologies, advanced water filtration systems and national defense.

The emerging green energy technologies like hybrid and electric vehicles and wind power turbines; high-tech applications like fiber optics, lasers and hard disk drives and numerous defense systems are dependent on rare earth materials for functionality.

China, which has vast reserves of rare earth metals and controls over 97% of the world’s current rare earth supply, has a virtual global monopoly of the metals. As global requirements for rare earth metals continue to spike, China’s own domestic use of rare earth elements is also soaring, with internal consumption estimated to be about 60% of production.

China has set its first round of 2011 rare earth export quotas at 14,446 tonnes, the Ministry of Commerce said in a statement posted on its website Tuesday.

The quota was down 11.4 percent year on year compared with the 16,304 tonnes in the first round of last year, according to previous ministry statements.

A total of 31 companies, including domestic businesses and overseas-funded enterprises, were accredited as qualified rare earth exporters for 2011, according to the statement.

China’s rare earth export quotas stood at 30,300 tonnes for 2010, a decline of nearly 40 percent from 2009. However in the first three quarters of this year China had already surpassed the quotas, with 32,200 tonnes of rare earths exported.

With around 30 percent of the world’s rare earth reserves, China supplies 90 percent of global demand.

Commerce ministry spokesman Yao Jian reiterated earlier this month that China’s decision to cut rare earth exploration, production and exports was made amid the government’s efforts to promote sustainable development and protect the environment.

Yao also said the country would act responsibly in international cooperation in rare earth exploration and ensuring the basic demands for the minerals are met.