BEIJING, May 23 (Reuters) - China’s exports of rare earths fell by more than half in April from a year previously, detailed Customs data showed on Monday, despite headline official data that indicated a rise of 46 percent.
China exported 1,819 tonnes of rare earths in April, figures supplied to Reuters by China’s General Administration of Customs showed, a 53 percent decline from April 2010 and a 12.6 percent slip from the volume exported in March.
The exports were valued at $221.8 million free on board, giving an average of $121,933 per tonne according to a Reuters calculation.
That is almost a tenfold rise from the average export value a year previously, although it shows the first sign of export values levelling off since they began to soar last August, with a mere 2.4 percent month-on-month increase in the average value per tonne since March.
Previously the value per tonne had jumped by an average of more than $13,000 per month for eight months in a row, as China choked off exports of the minor metals, which are used in a wide range of high-tech applications, from aerospace to wind turbines to Apple’s i-Phone.
China, which controls about 97 percent of rare earth output, has angered customers in Japan, the United States and Europe by clamping down on production and sale of the 17 rare earth elements, citing a need to clean up highly polluting production processes and to stop illegal exports.
The crackdown, which cut exports by 62 percent in the first four months of 2011 compared to a year earlier, has been a windfall for rare earth miners and prospectors outside China, such as U.S. firm Molycorp Inc .
China’s Customs office has changed its treatment of rare earths exports in its standard “headline” data release to include products made from rare earths, making for a total of 5,675 tonnes in April and 18,614 tonnes in the first four months of the year.
But the year-on-year comparisons provided by Customs are based on last year’s exports of rare earths alone, resulting in an apparent 46 percent rise in exports and lower values per tonne.
The Reuters figures and value per tonne calculations are based on exports of rare earths excluding products. (Reporting by Tom Miles, editing by Chris Buckley)