As Beijing tightens its grip on exports of the precious metals, the country is setting up a rare earth industry group that will lead price negotiations with foreign buyers, organizers said on Dec. 28.
The China Rare Earth Industry Association is expected to be launched in May and has already recruited 93 member firms, Wang Caifeng, who will set up the group, said on the sidelines of an industry forum. Wang is a former official in the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, one of the key government bodies overseeing the sector. The new negotiating group will have direct links to the MIIT.
"The association must reflect the calls of (Chinese) firms and will take up specific tasks in areas such as rare earth exports and foreign exchanges," she said, adding the group will lead price talks with overseas buyers. "We will be on the front line and will cooperate with the government to serve the companies."
The commerce ministry on Dec. 28 announced a preliminary rare earth export quota for next year of roughly 14,450 tons to allow companies to prepare for production, but emphasized it was not a full-year figure.
Wang said she believed the full-year quota for 2011 would not be reduced significantly as compared with this year and would still "be sufficient to meet domestic and international demand".
The quota this year was 30,300 tons, down 39% from 2009, according to government figures.
Wang warned that Chinese rare earth producers were facing rising competition as foreign firms were seeking supply from other countries including Mongolia, Vietnam and the United States due to China's stiffer controls over the metals.
"Competition will become more fierce and the market landscape will change in the future with the diversification of rare earth production and research and development," she said.
China produces more than 95% of the world's rare earths, which are critical to manufacturing 21st-century goods from iPods to low-emission cars to wind turbines.
Beijing has moved to tighten controls over the elements by cracking down on heavily polluting producers, cutting quotas for overseas shipments and hiking export taxes.
Japanese industry sources said China temporarily cut off exports earlier this year during a territorial row between Asia's two largest economies.
While China has denied halting exports, the United States last week called for Beijing not to use controls over the metals as a "weapon" to serve political interests.
Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming, on a visit to Washington earlier this month, denied any political motivation over rare earth exports.
Chen said Beijing was restricting mining due to environmental concerns and that Chinese companies were also affected.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010