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China rare earth prices soar on their potential role in trade war

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese rare earth prices are set to climb further beyond multi-year highs hit following a flurry of state media reports that Beijing could weaponize its supply-dominance of the prized minerals in its trade war with Washington.

Rare earths, a group of 17 elements that appear in low concentrations in the ground, are used in a wide-range of products stretching from lasers and military equipment to magnets found in consumer electronics.

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China supplied 80% of the rare earths imported by the United States from 2014 to 2017, with Chinese state newspapers last month reporting Beijing could use that as leverage in the ongoing trade dispute between the two.

(Magnet-related rare earths) are the ideal materials to weaponize … because they are so critical to high-demand, highly-competitive, price-sensitive industries,

said Ryan Castilloux, managing director of Adamas Intelligence, a consultancy that tracks rare earths markets.

(Such rare earths) are collectively responsible for over 90% of the demand market’s value each year … (so they) will yield the most juice for the squeeze,

Castilloux said by email from Toronto, adding that prices were set to keep rising.

Prices of dysprosium metal, used in magnets, high-powered lamps and nuclear control rods, are currently assessed by Asian Metal at their highest since June 2015 at 2,025 yuan ($292.98) per kg.

That is up nearly 14 percent from May 20, the day Chinese President Xi Jinping visited a rare earth plant, sparking speculation the materials could be the next front in the Sino-U.S. trade war.

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