Rare-earth prices rise as China’s import restrictions take effect

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Oct. 21 (Bloomberg) — Rare-earth prices have jumped as Chinese export quotas crimped worldwide supplies for the elements used in the manufacture of disk drives, wind turbines and smart bombs.

Prices have climbed sevenfold in the last six months for cerium oxide, which is used for polishing semiconductors, and other elements have more than doubled, according to Metal-Pages Ltd. in London, which tracks rare-earth prices.

Actions by China, which produces more than 90 percent of the world’s rare earths, have drawn criticism from U.S. lawmakers and officials in Japan and Germany. China reduced its second-half export quota for the minerals by 72 percent in July. It is now further restricting exports, according to industry participants.

“Materials are still being held up in customs and shipments are delayed,” Jeff Green, president of J.A. Green & Company LLC in Washington, who represents miners and users of the elements, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “Many believe rare-earth quotas for the second half of 2010 are exhausted, leaving materials unavailable for sale.”

President Barack Obama’s spokesman said the National Security Council staff is looking into reports that China is blocking shipments.“They’ve seen the reports,” press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters traveling with Obama on a West Coast campaign trip.“They’re looking into them but don’t have anything they could confirm about those reports.”

China’s Comments

China said the quota reduction was needed in order to shut polluting mines and still be able to meet domestic demand. It will “continue to supply rare earth to the world” while maintaining restrictions “to protect exhaustible resources and ensure sustainable development,” the Commerce Ministry said in a statement yesterday.

Contributing to the rise in prices is an expectation of further restrictions. China will probably tighten export controls on rare earths next year, Shigeo Nakamura, president of Advanced Material Japan Corp., said at a conference in China yesterday.

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