SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China, the world's largest producer and consumer of rare earths, should boost imports of the materials due to growing demand and to protect domestic resources, the China Daily reported on Wednesday, citing senior industry officials.
Global demand for rare earths, crucial in manufacturing high-tech products such as smartphones and hybrid cars, is expected to rise sharply, with appetite in China growing even faster, Liu Yinan, vice-chairman of the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals & Chemicals Importers & Exporters, was reported as saying.
The country should particularly look to ship in more medium and heavy rare earths, used to make complex products such as turbines and computer chips, Liu said. China has abundant supplies of light rare earths in northern areas, but a much smaller amount of the more expensive medium and heavy kinds.
With just 23 percent of global reserves, China accounts for more than 90 percent of the world's supplies of all rare earths.
The country exported 16,900 tonnes of rare earth last year, down 58 percent from year ago. It consumed about 83,000 tonnes, against global demand of 110,000 tonnes, Liu said.
The rapid growth in domestic manufacturers using heavy rare earths along with limited quotas for domestic manufacturing has led to a domestic shortage, said Chen Zhanheng, the deputy secretary-general of the China Rare Earth Industry Association.
China's tight export controls on rare earths have already pushed up prices, persuading countries such as the United States, Canada and India to resume production after shutting mines decades ago. Processing is also becoming attractive, with Australia's Lynas Corp seeking approval to build a plant in Malaysia.
(Reporting by Fayen Wong; Editing by Joseph Radford)