Myanmar coup may affect metal, rare earth supply

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    Myanmar’s military coup and declaration of a state of emergency has sparked concern in neighboring China over metal and mineral supplies amid already high tin, copper and rare earth prices.

    Myanmar is the world’s third-biggest miner of tin, according to the International Tin Association (ITA), and in 2020 accounted for more than 95 percent of China’s imports of tin concentrate, used by smelters to make refined tin for circuit-board soldering.

    China’s overall import reliance is 30-35 percent.

    Shipments from Myanmar, which borders China’s tin-smelting heartland of Yunnan, fell 13.5 percent last year amid coronavirus-related disruption.

    But since Myanmar’s main tin-mining area is the autonomous ethnic Wa region near China, which acts separately from the central government, it has not been affected by the coup and shipments are still possible, says the ITA, which sees concentrate exports holding steady in February.

    Mines in southern Myanmar are likely to reduce production and may eventually have to suspend operations as Chinese mining supplies, which enter at the Ruili border crossing in the north, have been cut off, the ITA says. But these mines only make up about 20 percent of output, it said.

    China is the world’s dominant producer of rare earths, a group of 17 minerals used in consumer electronics and military equipment. But it relied on Myanmar for about half its heavy rare earth concentrates in 2020, says Adamas Intelligence managing director Ryan Castilloux.

    Myanmar is therefore an “exceptionally critical supplier of … feedstocks that are essential ingredients in high-strength permanent magnets for electric vehicle traction motors, wind power generators, industrial robots and a wide array of defence-related applications”, he said. – Reuters