By Clint Cox
The sheer volume of stories being published about rare earths lately has been staggering. I have wanted to include a number of links to these stories, but I realize that it might be frustrating because a number of the sources require subscription. Many of the stories have had a distinctly Western slant on the recent issues, but several stories that have come from The New York Times, Science, and Metal-Pages.com have begun to reflect the Chinese thought behind the issues as well.
I would like to quote from a recent New York Times article entitled, “Backpedaling, China Eases Proposal to Ban Exports of Some Vital Minerals”, because I believe it gives excellent insight into the current Chinese view on the recent MIIT draft:
Wang Caifang, deputy director general of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, tried on Thursday to allay concerns that the draft rules would become the final policy, saying the regulatory review was still under way.
“China is very responsible. We will not take arbitrary decisions. All our decisions will be consistent with scientific development,” she said in a speech at the Minor Metals and Rare Earths 2009 conference in Beijing. “China will not close its doors.”
During an interview after her speech, Ms. Wang said that China would continue to set an annual quota for the export of each mineral, adding, “I don’t think it will be zero.”
So there you have it, “I don’t think it will be zero.” Perhaps some of the hooplah will die down for a bit as we await the final REE policy from the Chinese.
And now for a video in which it becomes clear that the Chinese view resources from the standpoint of reserves, not just production. Thus, this video suggests a mindset that is very different from the Western approach of looking at production as the primary way to view rare earths. In other words, the Chinese recognize that they have the largest reserves in the world, but others have reserves as well — it’s just that they have chosen not to produce from these reserves for one reason or another (mostly pricing).
It is true that the United States does have vast reserves of rare earths, but are not currently producing from these reserves, although there is some production from above-ground stocks. Of course, this is a vast oversimplification of the issue. For example, the United States does not have great reserves of the heavy rare earths, and each country has its own unique set of mining laws and restrictions. So reserve numbers, in and of themselves, do not tell the whole story, but it provides another frame of reference.
Also, in the video, we meet a gentleman who is directly involved in the production of rare earths, and he explains the problem of rare earth pricing with so much internal competition in China. This is part of what China is currently addressing — they wish to consolidate rare earth operations into fewer companies to create more efficient use of resources and provide better environmental controls. Of course, with fewer competitors, it will also help to better control the pricing.
Keep in mind that the Chinese will most probably not ban export of any of the REEs, but the commentator speaks of restriction in the piece.
And now, the video: