FILE PHOTO: Samples of rare earth minerals from left: Cerium oxide, Bastnaesite, Neodymium oxide and Lanthanum carbonate at Molycorp’s Mountain Pass Rare Earth facility in Mountain Pass, California June 29, 2015. REUTERS/David Becker
BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s exports of rare earth magnets to the United States fell 3.9% in June from the previous month, customs data showed on Saturday, as concerns persist that Beijing will curb supply of rare earth products as part of its trade war with Washington.
The latest data came after U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday told the Pentagon to find better ways to procure samarium-cobalt rare earth permanent magnets, used in specialty motors, warning that the country’s defense would suffer without adequate stockpiles.
China is the world’s dominant producer of rare earth magnets, which are widely used in medical devices and consumer electronics as well as defense, although Trump in August 2018 signed a policy bill banning their purchase from China for military use in the 2019 fiscal year.
China’s exports to the United States of permanent rare earth magnets, or rare earth material that will be turned into permanent magnets, came in at 414,100 kg, or around 414 tonnes last month, the data from the General Administration of Customs showed.
That was down 3.9% from 431 tonnes in May, which was the highest monthly total since at least 2016, and up 1.45% year-on-year.
David Merriman, manager of battery and electric vehicle materials at consultancy Roskill, said before the customs numbers came out the U.S. Department of Defense’s purchases of rare earth permanent magnets are “relatively minor” when compared to imports for electronic, automotive and other applications.
In terms of samarium-cobalt magnets, “the interesting trend has been the spikes in (U.S.) imports from the Philippines and Malaysia, suggesting a move to greater imports from Japanese-owned manufacturers,” he added, noting that Japan’s Shin-Etsu (4063.T) has samarium-cobalt production facilities in both those Southeast Asian countries.
Reporting by Tom Daly and Shivani Singh; Editing by Mark Potter