SHANGHAI, Jan 4 (SMM) -
Imports from overseas producing rare earth mines
China's rare earth imports are mainly rare earth ore, and the two major suppliers are Myanmar and the United States.
But the imports from the United States are likely to grow more slowly in the future. China imported 13,300 mt of rare earth metal ores in November, and the imports totalled 71,500 mt from January to November 2021, of which 71,300 mt were imported from the United States, accounting for 99% of the total. As the MP mine's production has been approaching full capacity, the growth of rare earth metal ore imports from the US has dropped from 67% in 2019 to 11% in 2021.
In terms of import structure of rare earth ores from Myanmar, it demonstrates a clear trend that features drop in total imports as well as the decline in the proportion of concentrate and the increase of REOs.
China imported 1,471 mt of unlisted REOs in November, and stood at 18,000 mt from January to November 2021, of which 15,600 mt were imported from Myanmar. And its proportion in total imports rose from 75% in 2018 to 87% in 2021.
In November, China imported 282 mt of mixed rare earth carbonate. And the imports stood at 4,348 mt from January to November 2021, of which 647 mt were imported from Myanmar. Imports of mixed rare earth carbonate from Myanmar accounted for 85% of China’s total imports in 2018, which dropped to only 15% in 2021.
The imports of rare earth ores from Myanmar experienced great volatility in 2021, and overseas mining projects have attracted much attention. The Ministry of Health of Myanmar stated on December 27 that 4 omicron cases were discovered in Myanmar, followed by the news that the border between China and Myanmar was closed again since the last closure lasting through July-November 2021.
Some domestic companies are pessimistic about the re-opening of the China-Myanmar border next year. Hence, the very recent batch of imported rare earth ores from Myanmar is expected to be held firm by the traders. Some separation companies have been actively looking for alternatives for middle and heavy rare earth ores, and the potential demand for rare earth chloride will be strong. Africa is rich in monazite mineral resources, with relative mining projects locating in Zambia, Morocco, Tanzania, Nigeria and etc. The rare earth chloride recovered from monazite may become a new growth engine for rare earth ore supply.
China rare earth exports landscape
China's rare earth exports are mainly NdFeB permanent magnets, followed by oxides and metals of non-permanent magnet elements such as lanthanum, cerium and yttrium. The exports of rare earth permanent magnets in November were 4,156 mt, down 0.5% from last month. As Christmas approaches, overseas market saw in the seasonal low, and demand weakened as well.
The exports of China’s NdFeB permanent magnets to the Europe dropped the most in November, while the increase was mainly contributed by the United States. Among them, the permanent magnets exports to Europe in November stood at 1,462 mt, a decrease of 17% from the previous month; the exports to South-eastern Asia recorded 641 mt, flat from October; the exports to the United States were 668 mt, an increase of 37% month-on-month.
China's REO exports are mainly yttrium oxide, lanthanum oxide, and cerium oxide. The major destination of lanthanum oxide is the United States, which is mostly used for petroleum cracking catalysts. Yttrium oxide is largely exported to Japan. Many manufacturers built up the stocks in advance due to concerns about the impact of the Winter Olympics. And the yttrium oxide market may usher in the seasonal off in the overseas market after the New Year’s Day. It is expected that the exports of yttrium oxide will decrease in January, 2022.
The domestic light rare earth ore mining quota expanded in 2021, and the production capacity of some domestic separation companies that use light rare earth ore as the major raw material grew accordingly. At the same time, the Baotou Conference proposed to solve the problem of overcapacity of lanthanum and cerium products through export. The exports of light rare earths such as lanthanum and cerium oxide are expected to increase in 2022.