China mulls export ban on hi-tech minerals

Beijing, China – China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is calling for a total ban on exports of metals used in hi-tech products. China mines over 95 percent of the world’s rare earth minerals.

The ministry’s report, Rare Earths Industry Development Plan 2009-2015, says foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium should be blocked, while other metals such as neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum will be subject to an export quota of 35,000 tons a year, far below the needs of the world’s industry.

Terbium, a key component in the manufacture of low energy light bulbs, costs around $800,000 a ton. Neodymium is used in hard disk drives and electric motors, while Cerium is vital for catalytic convertors and Europium is used in lasers.

At the end of the last century, China effectively put other mineral producers out of business by flooding the market with cheap supplies and it will take several years before those operations – mainly in North America, South Africa and Australia – can come back on stream.

In the meantime, China – which consumes around 60 percent of the world’s production of rare earth minerals – is sitting pretty.