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Appeal to boost rare earths imports

By Wang Zhuoqiong  (China Daily)

08:02, August 22, 2012

Imports of rare earths, especially the medium and heavy variety, should be increased to meet demand and protect dwindling resources, an industry leader said.

Companies should be encouraged to explore the possibilities of boosting imports of rare earths, Liu Yinan, vice-chairman of the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals & Chemicals Importers & Exporters, said.

China is the world's largest producer, and consumer, of rare earths, a group of 17 chemically similar elements crucial to the production of high-tech products. With just 23 percent of global reserves, China accounts for more than 90 percent of the world's rare earth supplies.

Global demand for rare earths is expected to rise sharply and China's demand will grow even faster, Liu said. Global demand was about 110,000 metric tons last year. China exported 16,900 tons and consumed about 83,000 tons last year.

The country has a plentiful supply of light rare earths in northern areas but a much smaller amount of medium and heavy rare earths in eastern and southern areas, mostly in Jiangxi and Fujian provinces.

Light rare earths are used to produce products such as car glass, while medium and heavy rare earths, which are more expensive, are used in more advanced manufacturing, such as for turbines and chips.

There has been a rapid growth in domestic manufacturers using heavy rare earths to make, among other products, magnets and hydrogen storage cells.

Chen Zhanheng, the deputy secretary-general of the China Rare Earth Industry Association, said the limited quota for domestic manufacturing, coupled with growing demand, has led to a shortage.

Last year the country imported about 5,000 tons, he said.

But China's dominant position as a major supplier will be weakened as new global projects are emerging.

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