SHANGHAI China released a new round of rare earths export quotas on Wednesday, taking its 2012 export quota to 30,996 tons, the Ministry of Commerce said, up slightly on last year despite a crack-down on small producers.
China, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the global supply of rare earths -- essential for the defense, electronics and renewable-energy industries -- has been reining in its exports in recent years, drawing the ire of trade partners who say the curbs are unfair.
The second round of export quotas for 2012 was 9,770 tons, spread across more than 24 producers including Minmetals, Baogang Group and Aluminum Corporation of China, the ministry said in a statement.
That would put the 2012 export quota 2.7 percent ahead of 2011's 30,184 tons. China usually issues two tranches of export quota for rare earths each year.
In August, China issued new rules to crack down on small-scale rare earth producers, aiming to consolidate production under big state-owned companies, curb illegal production and protect the environment.
Chinese officials believe the country should also boost its own imports of the minerals due to growing demand and to protect domestic resources.
Critics have argued the export cap has given Chinese companies an unfair competitive advantage and violates World Trade Organization rules.
Despite the 30,184 ton export quota in 2011, China said it shipped only 18,600 tons that year. The squeeze on supply has led, in part, to a fourfold increase in export prices over the past two years.
The higher prices have persuaded countries such as the United States, Canada and India to resume production after shutting mines decades ago.
(Reporting by Ruby Lian and Fayen Wong; Editing by Richard Pullin)