China's rare earths exports fell to a five-year low last year, customs data showed on Thursday, after the coronavirus hit overseas demand and as more supply was used in domestic industries.
Shipments reached 35 448 t, down 23% from 46 330 t in 2019 and the lowest since 2015, according to Reuters records.
Exports in December were 4,168 tonnes, the General Administration of Customs said, up from 2 611.1 t in November and also up from 3 657 t in December 2019.
China is the world's dominant producer of rare earths, a group of 17 minerals prized for their use in everything from consumer electronics to military equipment.
Exports have now fallen sharply for two years in a row, after a 12.6% drop in 2019.
The decline in 2020 was due to to Covid-19 lockdowns and "lacklustre demand growth from major end-users outside of China," said David Merriman, a manager at consultancy Roskill.
Fuel consumption in the automotive and aerospace sectors fell, affecting demand for rare earths in catalysts, he added in an email.
"We see an increasing amount of supply being consumed domestically as the China (rare earths) industry continues to look to add value," Merriman said.