In the field of mineral resources in China, the rare earth industry has never been short of topics. March 15 "Reference News" an "unexpected! China is the world's largest importer of rare earth, according to a new report from a consultancy firm. In 2018, China imported 41400 tons of rare earth oxides and oxide equivalents, up 167% from the previous year.
The news caused a heated discussion in the workshop. Some people disagree with this view. They think that although China has a large amount of rare earth, its reserves are still very rich, which can meet the domestic demand for at least 50 years. However, some people hold the opposite view, that rare earth is different from coal, its reserves are limited, if not restricted, it will eventually be mined empty.
Disputes are necessary, but the reality is grim. China is not only the world's largest producer of rare earth, but also the world's largest consumer of rare earth. Customs statistics show that in January 2019, China's imports of "rare earth metals, yttrium, scandium and their mixtures of inorganic or organic compounds" amounted to about US$15 million, an increase of 44.3% over the same period last year. The main source of imports came from Myanmar, accounting for 74% of the total. It is noteworthy that in the same period of 2018, imports from Myanmar accounted for only 25%, ranking second.
Objectively speaking, the growth of rare earth imports in China is related to the "overdraft" of rare earth in China. From 2005 to 2015, the relative scarcity index of rare earth resources in China dropped rapidly from 1.158 to 0.486, and the degree of scarcity increased year by year. During this period, there were 1.5 million tons of medium and heavy rare earth reserves in the five southern provinces, but only 600,000 tons are left.
China's oil industry is an example. Before 1993, because China had six major oil fields, such as Daqing and Shengli, oil could not only be self-sufficient, but also exported to Japan and other countries. However, with the increase of domestic demand, oil supply and demand reversed. Since 1993, China began to import large quantities of oil. In only 20 years, China's dependence on foreign oil has reached 57%, becoming the second largest oil buyer in the world after the United States.
Although China is recognized as a large rare earth reserve country, the reserves of rare earth resources in other countries in the world are also very rich. Australia, the United States and some countries in Central Asia, South Asia and Russia also have quite rich rare earth resources. China accounts for 36% of the world's rare earth reserves, Russia for 19%, the United States for 13%, and Australia for 5%. China produces 97% of the world's rare earth products with only 36% of its rare earth reserves.
More than 10 years ago, in order to protect the local rare earth resources, the U.S. government took strict measures, from restricting the export of rare earth to stopping the export completely, that is, the zero export management of rare earth, and began to seal up a large number of mines. Subsequently, the United States turned to importing rare earths from China and other countries to meet domestic demand. In other words, the United States, which accounts for 13% of the world's rare earth reserves, does not exploit them and has been importing Chinese rare earth cheaply.
China consumes two-thirds of the world's supply of rare earths, while the United States consumes about 10%. U.S. rare earth production continued to rise and rare earth products were exported to China. China's imports from the United States surged by 255%. Castillo, managing director of Adamas, said the United States shipped lanthanum-rich ores to China and bought back their oxides and chemicals.
Although China's rare earth imports will become normal, their imports will also be unstable. Industry insiders believe that China's rare earth imports may have increased this year, but the increase has been difficult to reach the level of 2018, because the Customs has imposed restrictions on rare earth import units and rare earth imports.