Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Beijing — China’s exports of rare earth magnets to the US fell 3.9% in June from the previous month, customs data showed, as concerns persist that Beijing will curb supply of rare earth products as part of its trade war with Washington.

The latest data came after US President Donald Trump told the Pentagon to find better ways to procure samarium-cobalt rare earth permanent magnets, used in specialty motors, warning that the country’s defence would suffer without adequate stockpiles.

China is the world’s dominant producer of rare earth magnets, which are widely used in medical devices and consumer electronics as well as defence, though Trump in August 2018 signed a policy bill banning their purchase from China for military use in the 2019 fiscal year.

China’s exports to the US of permanent rare earth magnets, or rare earth material that will be turned into permanent magnets, came in at about 414 tons in June, , the data from the general administration of customs showed. That was down 3.9% from 431 tons in May, the highest monthly total since at least 2016, and up 1.45% year-on-year.

David Merriman, manager of battery and electric vehicle materials at consultancy Roskill, said before the customs numbers came out the US defence department’s purchases of rare earth permanent magnets are “relatively minor” when compared to imports for electronic, automotive and other applications.

In terms of samarium-cobalt magnets, “the interesting trend has been the spikes in US imports from the Philippines and Malaysia, suggesting a move to greater imports from Japanese-owned manufacturers”, he said, noting that Japan’s Shin-Etsu has samarium-cobalt production facilities in both those Southeast Asian countries.