China hikes 2021 rare earth quotas by 20% to record highs

Workers transport soil containing rare earth elements for export at a port in Lianyungang
Workers transport soil containing rare earth elements for export at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China October 31, 2010. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
  • Rare earth mine output quota for 2021 at 168,000 T vs 140,000 T in 2020
  • Full-year smelting and separation quota at 162,000 T vs 135,000 T in 2020
  • Tight heavy rare earth supply to persist while Myanmar border shut -analyst

Sept 30 (Reuters) - China hiked its annual rare earth output quotas on Thursday by 20% year-on-year to their highest levels on record, as it seeks to ease tight supply for manufacturers.

A statement from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said the 2021 rare earth mining output had been set at 168,000 tonnes, up from 140,000 last year.

The quota for smelting and separation - or processing of rare earths into a form that can be used by manufacturers - is 162,000 tonnes, also up 20% on the year, the statement showed.

China is the world's dominant producer of rare earths, a prized group of 17 minerals used in consumer electronics and military equipment.

It announces quotas twice a year, splitting the mining quotas into those for light rare earths, the more common type, and heavy rare earths.

"The quota increase was pretty inevitable with the current supply situation in China and demand growth from NdFeB manufacturers," said Wood Mackenzie analyst David Merriman, referring to a type of rare-earth magnet used in consumer goods.

Neighbouring Myanmar supplies around half of China's heavy rare earths feedstock but the closure of a key border crossing to contain the spread of COVID-19 has seen shipments dry up.

"I expect the tight supply situation for (heavy rare earth) feedstock to persist until the Myanmar border reopens," Merriman added in an email.

Quotas for the first half of 2021 were earlier set at 84,000 tonnes for mining and 81,000 tonnes for smelting and separation. The full-year quotas, which have been published unusually late, imply the same levels for the second half.

The quotas are awarded to six state-run companies, including China Minmetals Rare Earth Co (000831.SZ), Chinalco Rare Earth & Metals Co and China Northern Rare Earth Group (600111.SS).

The Minmetals unit last week flagged potential consolidation of the so-called "Big Six" when it said its parent was discussing restructuring with Chinalco and the government of rare earths hub Ganzhou. read more

The table below shows company rare earth quotas for 2021 in tonnes.

Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and David Evans

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