Huawei and rare-earths fake-news

Apart from a quickly resolved dispute over steel and aluminum, US trade war against the rest of the world has not directly really affected metallurgical and mining resources.

Similarly, and unlike fake-news suggested, the US anti-Huawei offensive did not trigger any Chinese reprisals in the form of an embargo on its rare earths exports. China has no interest in initiating such a blockade for at least two reasons.

First, the growth of domestic rare earths production is slowing down, as China is limiting the production of its entire metallurgical and mining industry in order to curb its environmental impact. It has reduced the growth of production of steel, aluminum, zinc, iron ore, coal… as well as that of rare earths. And, for several years, it has maintained the global level of its production of many metals thanks to increasing imports of ores.

That is why, unlike a fake-news indicating that China has been waging a war in metals since the beginning of the century, Chinese behaviour is neither bellicose nor misanthropic when it bought the largest cobalt mine in the DRC from a US company; when it received a reference stake in the Chilean world leader in lithium from a Canadian company; when it successfully negotiated the acquisition of global lanthanide ores flows for its refineries; when in return for their production, it financed precious and base metal mines worlwide; not to mention its interests in many junior exploration companies.

There was no Chinese ambush, no military on the ground, no country fought against its mining advances, no one opposed its influence, this war for metals never took place… for lack of fighter. It was à fake news.

As a result, metal production, consumption and exports are trapped in Beijing’s mineral imports. An embargo on its rare earth exports would mean that an alliance would be formed to limit its mineral imports.

In addition, the weapon of rare earths, which are not rare, has become blunt because the world is less dependent on China than in 2010. There are more producers, and in the event of a disruption, consumers will organise themselves so that the flows of minerals for China might divert to the only plant in the world capable of processing them: the French plant in La Rochelle (in waiting for an operationnal JV between Lynas and Blue Line in Texas). In addition, substitution and eco-design have begun to reduce some consumptions.

Secondly, China is very dependent. A brutal embargo on rare earths would involve a series of equally harsh aftershocks directed at its imports of other natural resources: metals, agri-food or energy. In our world where everything has been allowed for a few years, could fewer exports of rare earths on the one hand lead to less availability of lithium, cobalt, nickel, iron ore, gas, soya, pork… on the other hand from allies close or less close to the United States?

Commodities’ world is rarely a one-way street

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