Over the course of the last few months, slumping prices have prompted Japanese companies to reassess their rare metals strategies and cancel cooperative agreements that were once considered a high priority.
As Nikkei Asian Review reports, state-owned Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. (JOGMEC) has cancelled a joint exploration contract for a tungsten mine in Australia, and chemical Showa Denko has announced plans to dissolve its China-based rare-earth magnet alloy-manufacturing and –selling subsidiary Baotou Show Rare Earth High-Tech New Material.
The Japanese retreat is providing China, which is also putting out feelers regarding acquiring bankrupt American REE producer Molycorp after Japanese companies declined, with yet another opening to tighten its grip on the rare metals market.
Says Rurika Imahashi, Nikkei staff writer:
“Slowly but surely the market is being forged into an oligopoly. More than 100 rare-earth producers in China will be consolidated by June, leaving 90% of global supply in the hands of a mere six companies. Similar moves are also afoot in the antimony and other rare metals markets.”
Imahashi’s observation regarding the consequences is spot on:
“Concerns over supply may be waning due to falling prices, but stable supply could be at risk in the medium and long term.”
Meanwhile, the United States appears to be dozing off again on the critical minerals front. While the USGS recently released a study showing that the U.S. reliance on foreign imports has increased significantly over the past 30 years, Congress has failed to pass legislation to facilitate exploration and development of domestic mineral resources for several years in a row. Instead, like Buzz Lightyear — and in a sad commentary on the burdensome permitting process on the patch of Earth called the United States — American lawmakers decided to look To Infinity and Beyond!, passing legislation allowing for the commercial extraction of minerals and other materials, including water from the moon and asteroids.