29 Dec 2010 12:37

China's rare earths industry association addresses domestic critics

Beijing. December 29. INTERFAX-CHINA - An official with the Chinese Society of Rare Earths (CSRE) denied domestic media reports that China's rare earths resources have declined dramatically in the last 20 years.

Deputy Deirector Zhang Anwen of the CSRE, a non-governmental industry association, spoke Dec. 28 at the 2010 Rare Earth International Conference in Beijing to deny reports that China's rare earths resources will only last another 15 to 20 years.

China held approximately 70 percent of the world's rare earths resources in the 1980s, according to CSRE statistics. The official China Daily reported Oct. 19 that the country now only holds 36 percent of global rare earths resources.

According to Zhang, China's annual consumption of rare earths stands at around 100,000 tons.

"Previously, most countries were unaware of the importance of rare earths and did not know the full extent of their resources," said Zhang. "The claim that China held 70 percent of the world's resources was therefore inaccurate."

China's rare earths reserves have seen no significant change over the past two decades, according to Zhang, with enough remaining to support several decades of production.

Yan Huizhong, assistant chief engineer at the Baotou Research Institute of Rare Earth, a research institute affiliated with China's largest rare earths producer, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region-based Baotou Steel Rare-Earth (Group) Hi-Tech Co. Ltd., told Interfax the company holds rare earth oxide stockpiles of 10 million tons, enough for around 100 years of production.

"The company also holds a large amount of rare earths ores," he added.

Xu Xu, president of the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals, and Chemicals Importers and Exporters, said at the same conference that the average export price for rare earths has tripled between 2001 and the first 11 months of 2010.

The average export price for rare earths products stood at $4,559 per ton in 2001 but grew to $17,957 per ton in the first 11 months of this year.

The price increases are not significant however, said Xu. The average imported prices for crude oil, crude copper and iron ore increased by around 200 percent, 380 percent and 400 percent respectively in the period of October 2002 to October 2010.

"China must also factor in the cost to the environment when setting export prices for rare earths" Xu said.