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Limited Access: the Rare Earth Element Industry

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Limited Access: The Rare Earth Element Industry

The global market for rare earth elements (REEs) has caused widespread concern in today’s international business environment. Currently, global deposits and reserves are only concentrated in a small number of countries with China being the world's largest supplier due to their optimal geology, complete control over mining supply chains and unique infrastructure to mine and process REEs consistently. In the 1990’s, China’s private and governmental mining companies explored and produced REEs with little to no regulation and as a result, local production had sky-rocketed, allowing China to effectively out-compete other nations in the global mining industry.

In 2002, China’s central government restructured their domestic industry by branding REEs as a protected strategic resource and therefore issued a complete government take over of domestic supply processes, which has allowed them to internationally restrict the access of REEs. Additionally, China’s production of over 95% of the world’s REEs and possession of 89% of the global REE reserves has resulted in foreign dependency on their production supply. The U.S., for example, imports as much as 91% while Japan and the E.U. import almost all of their REEs from China.

China’s Protectionism over REE resources through practices of imposing internal production and export quotas, restricting foreign investment and enforcing tax regulation over domestic REE production, has strangled the supply of strategic elements in the global market and hindered the viable interests of other nations as well as expose them to extreme market risk towards China’s political, environmental and economic environments and overall significantly slumping exports in the global market.

Due to the limited availability of strategic minerals, China’s export prices jumped to over 68% of...

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