The China Factor
Chinese control of the base of the REE supply chain has increasingly made China the go-to location for the intermediate goods made from REE. In time, China hopes to extend production into the final products as well. As new REE supplies cannot be brought online overnight, the Chinese will enjoy a powerful position in the short term. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce reports that China has ratcheted down REE export quotas by an average of 12 percent per year over the past five years, further leveraging this position. Reflecting that and the current China-Japan spat, the average price for REE has tripled in the year to date.
Rare earth elements are not as rare as their name suggests, however. Before the Chinese began a dedicated effort to mass-produce REE in 1979, there were several major suppliers. Pre-China, the United States was the largest producer. Appreciable amounts of REE were also produced in Australia, Brazil, India, Malaysia and Russia. Any sort of real monopoly on REE, therefore, is not sustainable in the long-run. But before one can understand the future of the REE industry, one must first understand the past. (more)