Domestic Chinese demand for rare earths has increased as much as 200 percent in the last 12 months, with almost half of that increase coming since the start of the year, Liu said.
Through the middle of last year, I along with many others, complacently assumed that China would eventually turn from exporter of REEs to importer, but not until about 2021. In October last year I amended my informed guess to about 2018. This week at the International Rare Earth Summit in Pittsburgh, PA, Liu Junhua, a man in a position to know, suggested bringing that import position forward to 2014-2015 for the heavy rare earths. This is another game altering development in our rare earth sector. Yes he really did say 2014.
China May Start Importing Rare Earths to Meet Demand, Mining Official Says
By Gopal Ratnam – Mar 15, 2011 5:23 PM GMT
China, which controls about 95 percent of global shipments of rare earths, may start importing some of the material to meet rising domestic demand, according to Liu Junhua, a Chinese official.
“China may eventually need to import the materials,” Liu, the deputy secretary for Baotou Rare Earth High-Tech Industrial Development Zone Committee said today in an interview after speaking at the International Rare Earth Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There’s a “strong possibility of importing heavy rare earths” in the next three to four years, he said through an interpreter.
China has about 36 percent of global rare-earth reserves and the U.S. has 13 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
If China turns heavy rare earths importer as soon as 2014, from where is the first question that springs to mind. Few if any of the potential western mines with a high concentration of HREEs are likely to be in production by 2014. Even if they were, the Chinese would be competing with the Japanese and South Koreans and rest of the world for available supply. Even if Mr Liu misspoke and the real picture is 2015-2016, the world has a real problem on its hands. 2015 is when the west’s REE mines really start to come on-stream but only assuming no unexpected problems arise. In bringing in new mines, that is a bad assumption. If Mr Liu is right, there’s a potential HRE supply deficit shaping up for 2014-2016. That’s only 3 to 5 years away.