China bans export of rare earth processing technology due to national security | Reuters

© Reuters. PHOTO: In this illustration photo taken on July 6, 2023, a miniature worker is shown holding a Chinese flag. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration/File Photo

By Siyi Liu and Dominique Patton

BEIJING (Reuters) – China, the world’s top rare earth processor, on Thursday banned the export of technology to mine and separate strategic metals, another step to protect its dominance in several strategic metals.

Last December, the Department of Commerce was seeking public opinion on a possible move to add the technology to its “Export Prohibited Technology Catalog.”

It also banned the export of production technology for rare earth metals and alloy materials, as well as technology for the preparation of some rare earth magnets.

Among the listed objectives of the catalog are the protection of national security and the public interest.

China has significantly tightened export rules for several metals this year in an escalating battle with the West for control of critical minerals.

In August, it introduced export permits for gallium and germanium chip materials, followed by similar requirements for several types of graphite from December 1.

The move to protect its rare earth technology comes as Europe and the United States seek to wean themselves off rare earths from China, which accounts for 90% of global refined production.

Rare earths are a group of 17 metals used to make magnets for use in electric vehicles, wind turbines and electronics.

China has mastered the solvent extraction process for refining strategic minerals that Western rare earth companies have struggled to deploy due to technical complexities and pollution concerns.

It is not clear to what extent the technology will actually be exported. China has discouraged exports since 2007, said a rare earths analyst who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.

“Other countries such as the US, Japan and France all have separation technology, but China has the highest efficiency and cost advantage,” he said.