Beijing is sending a strong signal to the global rare-earth industry: China will no longer export other key refining and processing technologies. The measure, attributed to national security reasons, could hamper the efforts of other countries seeking to establish their own value chains. At the same time, it once again underlines the importance of the latter for the rest of the world.
Since yesterday, China is strengthening its dominance of the rare-earth industry by officially banning the export of technologies used to refine and process these critical minerals. As with its recently imposed export restrictions on gallium and germanium, the Chinese customs authority is justifying this step by citing national security interests, as reported by Reuters. While export bans on rare earth technologies have been in place for some time, new bans have now been imposed in key areas: Among other things, the People’s Republic now no longer allows the export of technologies to produce rare earth magnets, as the industry service Fastmarkets reports. As a result, the export of know-how across the entire magnet value chain is severely restricted. This strengthens China’s position in the market, especially in the processing of raw materials.
The first indications of a prospective ban on technology exports emerged in April 2023 and raised concerns in the Japanese government. China dominates the global market for neodymium and samarium-cobalt magnets, which are crucial components of the ongoing energy and transportation transition. The new export regulations are not aimed at the direct export of rare-earth products but are meant to thwart efforts to develop rare-earth value chains outside of China, as Bloomberg speculates. In Western countries, the new regulations could have a major impact on magnet projects of important companies in this field, such as Neo Performance, MP Materials, or Vacuumschmelze (VAC).
At the same time, the new bans once again underline the importance of having their own value chains in Western countries. Around 90 percent of rare earths are processed in China. The country, therefore, has technologically leading machinery and equipment as well as the expertise to separate rare earths, use them to produce alloys, and manufacture permanent magnets.
Jan Giese, rare earth expert at TRADIUM GmbH, assesses the current situation as follows: “In November 2023, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce issued new export rules for rare earths that require exporters to disclose comprehensive information, including purchase contract and shipping data. China is now once again tightening the rules for exporting the technology required along the entire value chain. In conjunction with the sovereignty over production quotas, a consolidation of Chinese industry that has been steadily progressing for years, and the resulting closer integration with companies, I see this as a further step in a long-term strategy and less of a concrete provocation in the trade dispute.”