A 21st Century Scramble: South Africa, China and the Rare Earth Metals Industry

Published: 2012
Occasional Paper
"The paper analyses the peculiar structure of the rare earth elements (REE) industry, a sector dominated by China, and the global implications of current upheavals within the sector, especially as they concern South Africa’s (re)emerging rare earths production. REEs are a hitherto obscure group of metals that have now assumed global significance, They are especially critical to modern high-strength magnets and constitute vital inputs for a growing range of mass consumer, ‘green’ technology and military applications. It is important to understand that REEs altogether comprise 17 different metals which, although found together in various combinations, differ in relative abundance and breadth of possible applications. There are therefore large variations in prices and criticality of supply between the different elements. The Chinese rare earths industry has secured a 97% share of upstream production by means of aggressive pricing, backed by state support and technology transfer."