China raised its 2019 national rare earths production quotas by at least 10% last week amid heightened optimism of a phased trade deal with the U.S., though such hopes weakened over the weekend based on remarks by U.S. President Donald Trump.
The world’s largest producer of the chemical elements set its mining quota for the year at 132,000 tons and the smelting and separation quota at 127,000 tons, according to a statement (link in Chinese) Friday by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The quotas were up 10% and 10.4% respectively from 2018 allotments.
The announcement followed months of speculation that China might leverage its dominance in rare earths in the trade war by restricting sales to the U.S., a major buyer. The country’s exports fell 18.2% year-on-year in May amid comments from Beijing that it would not tolerate use by countries that seek to hurt China’s interests.
Rare earths are 17 minerals used in products ranging from consumer electronics to military equipment. China releases national quotas semiannually, though this year’s November release came three months later than last year’s second-half announcement.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Commerce said China and the U.S. agreed to roll back tariffs on each other’s goods in phases, raising expectations of an imminent deal. The same day, China’s State Council issued new guidelines on foreign capital that would lift many restrictions on foreign financial institutions seeking to operate in the country.
However, Trump disputed that there was a breakthrough in negotiations, telling reporters Friday that he had not agreed to a rollback.
China accounted for 80% of U.S. rare earths supply in 2018, and the country controls at least 80% of the world’s processing capacity for these elements. In a bid to cut dependence on the country, U.S. and Australian officials are discussing joint development of critical mineral deposits.
Contact reporter Dave Yin (firstname.lastname@example.org)