With the advantage of the low cost of China’s rare earth mining such as lower labor costs and less environmental protection, Chinese enterprises have started the large-scale exploitation of rare earth and export since the 1990s. Therefore, China’s cheap rare earth occupied the global market, and most countries in the world stopped the exploitation of rare earth. China’s reserves of rare earth once accounted for 71.1% of the global reserves while the percentage declined to 40% in 2015.
China launched the rare earth export quota license system in 1998. In recent years, Chinese government has attempted to decrease the amount of export enterprises and quotas as well as the annual exploitation of rare earth mines. For example, the rare earth export quota set by Ministry of Commerce of China for domestic enterprises declined from 50,000 tons in 2005 to 21,590 tons in 2014. Decrease in export quotas results in the increasing amount of smuggling.
On Mar. 26, 2014, the WTO released the panel report concerning the case of European Union, the U.S. and Japan against the export management measures of China’s rare earth, tungsten, molybdenum and other related products. The export management measures of Chinese products involved in the case were judged as infraction. Tariffs on export of rare earth was abolished on May 1, 2015. Rare earth export quota system came to an end on Jan. 1, 2016. Before the cancellation of export quota, quite a few Chinese rare earth enterprises had no access to export quota, and smuggling became their main means of export. In spite of multiple regulations of Chinese government, it was difficult to eliminate the smuggling. With the abolishment of export quota and export tariff, the rare earth export license can be obtained as long as one provides the contract of sales, to a certain extent, which will help curb the smuggling of rare earth.
However there is still the total exploitation control index system of rare earth mines (rare earth oxide REO). Rare earth exploitation index is the enterprise exploitation index issued for the strategic metals such as rare earth, tungsten and molybdenum by the State Council of the PRC. It aims at ensuring the sustainable use of resources and maintaining the supply-demand balance. In 2015, the total exploitation control index of China’s rare earth mines (rare earth oxide REO) totally amounted to 105,000 tons. In Feb. 2016, the Ministry of Land and Resources of the People’s Republic of China issued the total exploitation control index of China’s first rare earth mines (rare earth oxide REO) which totally amounted to 52,500 tons.
At present, production capacity of China’s rare earth separation enterprises exceeds 300,000 tons. However, the global annual demand is no more than 150,000 tons, of which that of the international market is about 50,000 tons and that of domestic market is less than 100,000 tons. The dominant position of China’s rare earth on the global market is still stable. In 2015, the actual production of China’s rare earth was more than 150,000 tons which was higher than the quota. The reasons lied in the illegal exploitation.