March 7, 2020 / 5:03 AM / 25 days ago

China January-February rare earth exports fall sharply as virus curbs supply

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s rare earth exports fell by 17.3% year-on-year in the first two months of 2020, customs data showed on Saturday, as the coronavirus outbreak severely disrupted production and hampered shipments overseas.

The General Administration of Customs said last month it would combine preliminary trade data for January and February instead of releasing data for individual months. Early-year data in China is typically distorted by the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, while this year the coronavirus epidemic has also widely disrupted business.

China exported 5,489.2 tonnes of rare earths - a group of 17 minerals used in consumer electronics and military equipment - in January and February combined, the data showed, down from 6,638.9 tonnes in the year-earlier period. The previous period had one less day due to 2020 being a leap year.

China is the world’s dominant producer of rare earths and has occasionally exported a similar volume to the January-February combined total in a single month.

The virus epidemic, which has killed more than 3,000 people in the country, sparked fears that supply would fall dramatically as companies were short of workers and facing strict transportation curbs imposed to contain the spread.

Despite this, China raised its rare earth mining output quota for the first half of 2020 by 10% year-on-year to 66,000 tonnes.

Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Tom Hogue & Shri Navaratnam

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