Earlier this week the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) announced the second round of allocations  of rare-earth export quotas for 2012, to companies operating in China. This follows the initial announcement outlining the first allocation of 2012 in December 2011 , and a subsequent update in May 2012 .
A total of 9,770 t of export quotas was allocated in this second round, bringing the total for 2012 to 30,996 t. In this article we will take a look at the allocation numbers associated with this week’s announcement, before reviewing them in the context of the full year’s allocations, and those of recent years. We’ll also discuss the possibility of export quotas being eliminated altogether for Chinese rare-earth materials.
As you may recall, the initial allocation of export quotas for 2012 was unusual for a number of reasons. First, MOFCOM issued separate allocations for light (LRE) and medium / heavy (M/HRE) rare-earth products for the first time. Second, MOFCOM clearly telegraphed the year’s total export quotas; and thirdly, the Ministry allocated quotas on the basis of whether or not companies had passed new pollution-control standards.
A number of companies that had not received confirmed quotas in December 2011 did so in the May 2012 update. At that time, six companies remained on the provisional list; last week, the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) published a list of 24 rare-earth companies  that had recently passed inspections. Five of the six companies with provisional export quotas were on that list, and thus subsequently had their quota allocations confirmed for 2012. One of those six companies, Pingyuan Sanxie Rare Earth Smelting Co., was not on the list, and has therefore not received a confirmed allocation of export quotas for 2012.
So here is how the quota allocations for 2012 break down:
|H1 Allocation (Dec 2011 + May 2012)||18,585||2,641||21,226|
|– 1st batch (confirmed Dec 2011)||9,095||1,451||10,546|
|– 2nd batch (confirmed May 2012)||9,490||1,190||10,680|
|H2 Allocation (Aug 2012)||8,537||1,233||9,770|
We can now drill down into the numbers for the companies that have received quota allocations in this second allocation. Those highlighted in red are the five companies that only recently passed the pollution-control inspections; these numbers represent their total quota allocations for 2012, since they did not received confirmed quotas until now. There is also a new company on the list (highlighted in green) that has not previously received export quotas, but which was included in the MEP’s list of companies last week. The list is further divided into sub-lists for Chinese and Chinese / non-Chinese joint-venture (JV) companies. The two sub-lists are sorted from highest-to-lowest total allocation:
|Exporting Company: Chinese-Owned||Allocation (tonnes)|
|Inner Mongolia Baotou Steel Rare Earth Hi-Tech Co.**||1,192||73||1,265|
|Inner Mongolia Baotou Hefa Rare Earth Co.**||940||105||1,045|
|Grirem Advanced Materials Co.||402||41||443|
|China Minmetals Corporation*||289||112||401|
|Gansu Rare Earth New Materials Co.||317||38||355|
|China Nonferrous Import-Export Co. Jiangsu Branch||239||63||302|
|Baotou Huamei Rare Earth Hi-Tech Co.**||242||14||256|
|Chalco Rare Earth (Jiangsu) Co.||181||55||236|
|Ganzhou Chenguang Rare Earth New Materials Co.||196||27||223|
|Yiyang Hongyuan Rare Earth Co.||204||7||211|
|Xuzhou Jinshi Pengyuan Rare Earth Materials Co.||185||20||205|
|Guangdong Zhujiang Rare Earth Co.||130||73||203|
|Ganzhou Qiandong Rare Earth Group Co.||156||43||199|
|Shandong Pengyu Industrial Co.||146||21||167|
|Xi’an Xijun New Materials Co.||139||27||166|
|Jiangxi Rare Earth & Rare Metals Tungsten Group Co.||159||2||161|
|Guangdong Rising Nonferrous Metals Group Co.||102||28||130|
|Jiangxi South Rare Earths Hi-Tech Co.*||107||7||114|
|Leshan Shenghe Rare Earth Technology Co.||102||0||102|
|Ganxian Hongjin Rare Earth Co.*||27||33||60|
|Exporting Company: Chinese / Non-Chinese JV||Allocation (tonnes)|
|Zibo Jiahua Advanced Material Resources Co.||1,434||57||1,491|
|Huhhot Rongxin New Metal Smelting Co.||479||50||529|
|Baotou Rhodia Rare Earth Co.||359||31||390|
|Yixing Xinwei Leeshing Rare Earth Co.||226||105||331|
|Jiangyin Jiahua Advanced Material Resources Co.||146||138||284|
|Liyang Rhodia Rare Earth New Materials Co.||176||53||229|
|Baotou Tianjiao Seimi Rare Earth Polishing Powder Co.**||95||4||99|
|Baotou Santoku Battery Materials Co.||71||6||77|
|Sub-Total: Chinese / Non-Chinese JVs||2,986||444||3,430|
* Part of China Minmetals Group, which was allocated a confirmed total of 575 t.
** Part of Baogang Group, which was allocated a confirmed total of 2,665 t.
I will note at this point that with the sale of Neo Material Technologies to Molycorp a few months ago, Zibo Jiahua Advanced Material Resources Co. and Jiangyin Jiahua Advanced Material Resources Co. are now part of the Molycorp group.
Here is a comparison of the quota allocations for the past four years:
We can see that there has been little change in the total quantity of allocations in the past three years, even if the structure and methods of allocations have evolved. Probably the most significant development was this year’s split into LRE and M/HRE product quota allocations for the first time.
Clearly a lot of time and effort goes into the allocation and export quotas for the rare-earth industry in China. Recent figures indicate, however, that at no point since the introduction of export quotas several years ago, has the amount of rare-earth products exported through official channels, come close to the specified quota limit. Compare the estimate from the Chinese State Council Information Office (published in a June 2012 white paper on rare earths ), of 18,600 t of exports through official channels in 2011, to the 30,246 t of export quotas that were allocated for the same year. Compare those numbers in turn, to the approximately
41,300 t 22,320 t of rare-earths imported into countries outside of China, based on estimates in that same white paper (indicating that 55% 20% of all rare-earths imported into countries outside of China were smuggled or otherwise illegally obtained from China).
Perhaps this is why in just the past few days, we’ve started to hear stories of Chinese rare-earth industry executives, asking the Chinese government to consider the possibility of abolishing the export quotas altogether (given the fact that the quota allocations seem to have little effect on the amount of materials actually exported from China, legally or otherwise). Eliminating the export quotas would of course be a significant development in the context of the recent complaints to the World Trade Organization about China’s export practices for rare earths and other materials .
Given the imminent arrival of new supplies of LREs from sources outside of China, it is entirely possible that the quotas for LREs will be eliminated in the near future. For M/HREs, I am not so sure that the quotas will be eliminated quite so soon. Being able to make these decisions, however, is of course made much easier by the recent split into quota allocations for LREs and M/HREs.
Stranger things in this industry have happened…
Update – August 23, 2012: the data for the estimated quantities of rare earths imported into countries outside of China has been amended to reflect that the estimate made by the Chinese authorities was 1.2, not 2.2 times, the amount exported through official channels in 2011. It should be noted that the estimate in the white paper of the amount of materials smuggled, did not include materials deliberately mis-labelled as something other than a rare-earth product, so the estimate of 20% is undoubtedly conservative.