Chinese provinces crack down on rare earth activities

By Albert Li
Published: Thursday, 23 February 2017

Inspections to take place in April; Black list will be created at provincial level; Recovery noted in rare earths market

Several Chinese provinces have announced a series of inspections to take place until April in order to crack down on illegal mining. Operations will be closely monitored to assess source material, selling prices and output.
A number of Chinese provinces announced plans in January to take special action against illegal rare earth mining following an announcement from central government in December.

Preventative action in the form of inspections will run between December 2016 and April 2017 in provinces including Sichuan, Inner Mongolia, Hunan, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Shandong, Fujian and Gansu.

Most provinces have made similar announcements around the inspection of rare earth oxide sources, inventory status, production quotas compared to actual output, sales amounts, VAT invoice details, and export prices.

Factories without production quotas, special rare earth sale or purchase invoices, resource tax 
invoices, or source material proof will be forced to stop production.

The inspections will also apply to larger rare earth companies including the biggest six rare earth groups in China.

Production will be cut off and quotas will be deducted this year if a company’s sales and output do not correspond or if a company exceeds its production quota. If the selling price of rare earth exports arouses suspicion, the company will be subject to further inspections.

A black list will be created on a provincial level and companies on the list will be affected in terms of credit, listing, rating, loan, entry standards and quotas.

The Chinese media has also been encouraged to expose any illegal activities, while reports from civilians will be rewarded.

In theory, all companies will be checked, including 44 smelting and separation companies (two of which are not in the big six group), with a total production quota of 100,000 tonnes in 2016, and 17 rare earth mineral companies (one of which is not in the biggest six), with a total quota of 105,000 tonnes.

Jiangsu Province has created an additional list of 41 companies including export companies, 23 of which will be inspected specifically. Inner Mongolia has a list of 38 companies, three in Hohhot, 33 in Baotou and two in Bayanhaoer. 

Another aspect of investigation will be into the purchasing and processing of illegal rare earth minerals labelled as "general use and recycling". As such, in-situ sampling inspections are planned and production will be halted if material specification does not match purchased source material.

Inner Mongolia is the largest producer of rare
earths in China and holds the China Northern
Rare Earth Group (formerly Inner Mongolia Baotou
Steel Rare Earth Group Hi-Tech Co Ltd) mine in Baotou

China’s REE industry "on track"

China’s rare earth sector saw notable trading activity in 2016, shaped by a wave of strategic policies implemented throughout the year, although prices remained low, according to the China Nonferrous Industry Association.

Speaking at the 2016 Rare Earth Industry Analysis event held in Beijing on 16 December, Quanxun Chen, director of the association, stated that progress was being made in reforming the supply side of the sector. 

Led by policies regulating rare earth environmental inspections and operating conditions, some capacities were eliminated, including plants that failed to meet environmental standards, had low profits and those that were less competitive.

Quanxun pointed to the active import and export market.

From January to October 2016, imported rare earths smelting and separation products rose 47% year-on-year (y-o-y) to 14,000 tonnes, while exports were 43% higher y-o-y at 38,000 tonnes.

Downstream rare earth functional material exports continued to post growth while permanent magnet exports increased 15% to 22,000 tonnes.

This shows a degree of recovery in both upstream and downstream markets, he added, citing how preliminary products like oxide and rare earth salt are now more competitive, generating momentum for the development of further processing capability in China.

At the same time, market prices remained low, with most prices of rare earth products decreasing in 2016.

The average prices for neodymium, dysprosium, and terbium oxide stood at Chinese renminbi (Rmb) 250,000/tonne, ($3,656/tonne*) Rmb 1.25m/tonne and Rmb 2.62m/tonne respectively from January to November, down 5%, 17% and 18% y-o-y, according to Quanxun.

Nong Xia, inspector and representative for China National Development and Reform Commission, reassured delegates that the authority values the rare earth sector and took action in 2016 to foster its development, including the national rare earth storage programme, a construction fund and by supporting technological advancement and industrial upgrades.

During the event, the founding of a rare earth branch of the China Nonferrous Industry Association was announced. Quanxun explained the significance of the branch within the association by noting that four of the six largest rare earth companies in China are non-ferrous metals companies.

*Conversions made February 2017