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China to tighten standard for rare-earth mining, cut number of licenses

By Chen Yang (Global Times)

08:19, July 17, 2012

China plans to cut the number of rare-earth mining licenses and raise market access standard for miners, as part of efforts to promote industry consolidation and reduce environmental damage.

The number of rare-earth mining licenses in Ganzhou, East China's Jiangxi Province, will be reduced from 88 to 44, the Ministry of Land and Resources said in a statement on its website Monday.

The number of rare-earth mining licenses in Southwest China's Sichuan Province has been cut to 7 from 19. And Baogang Group has integrated all the mining and refinery businesses in Inner Mongolia, the statement said.

After the consolidation, the number of rare-earth mining licenses in China will be brought down to 65, it said.

A market access standard for rare-earth mining will be released soon. Qualified miners should be enterprises which have annual revenue of at least 1 billion yuan ($156.8 million), the Economic Information Daily reported Monday, citing a draft of the new standard.

"The move aims to encourage big enterprises to enter the rare-earth mining sector, as the sector is highly fragmented and full of small miners. Unqualified miners will be eliminated from the industry," Chen Zhanheng, an expert at the Chinese Society of Rare Earths, told the Global Times Monday.

"Rare-earth miners will be better regulated, which would lead to a reduction of domestic output of rare-earth minerals," said Zhu Zhiwei, a senior analyst at Sublime China Information."It will benefit from the sustainable development of the rare-earth sector," he said.

China has 23 percent of the global rare-earth reserves but accounts for more than 90 percent of the global supply of rare-earth minerals. The country produced 96,900 tons of rare earth in 2011 and exported 18, 600 tons.

The authorities have been cracking down on illegal mining and smuggling activities for years, but such activities are still rampant. The volume of exports through illegal means was 20 percent higher than that through official channels in 2011, said a white paper issued by the State Council in June.

Illegal exploration has caused environmental damages. In Ganzhou, costs for tackling environmental pollution would amount to 38 billion yuan, according to Su Bo, vice minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

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