Scarcity and Strategic Trade of Rare Earth Minerals

China has a near monopoly on rare earth minerals used in all kinds of manufacturing.  These kinds of commodities must have extremely inelastic demand.  Thus, it's not surprising to see China, which possesses about 95% of know extractable deposits, curtailing exports.

Curtailing exports will raise prices on the amounts they do export, and also raise the international market value of goods produced in China using rare minerals.  While some may interpret the action as a slight against free market fundamentalism, a much easier and more compelling explanation is that China is simply asserting its market power for nationalistic gain.  To me, anyway, this looks like a textbook example of strategic trade.


  1. Geoff Styles had a good post on this a few months ago, in which he points out that rare earth metals are physically not that rare, just difficult and expensive to process. Not that that's much consolation in the short run.


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