Rare earth exporters in India have lodged protests after the government snatched their rights to send these precious elements abroad.
Rare-earth metals are a group of 17 elements, which are found in geological deposits. Some of the most abundant metals in the world are neodymium, cerium, and lanthanum.
All rare earths are classified into two groups: light rare earths (LREs), and heavy rare earths (HREs).
Just 20 years earlier, the Government of India (GoI) allowed the private sector into beach sand mining. Now, it issued a notification, wherein the right to export these rare-earth metals have been taken away.
Instead, the GoI has introduced a canalization system.
The primary aim of canalization of exports through Indian Rare Earths (IRE), according to the Financial Express, is to curtail direct private sector export of beach sand minerals and derivatives like ilmenite, rutile and zircon.
Canalizing means putting quantitative restrictions on exports.
But the move has obviously not gone down well with rare earths miners. Miners have said these checks would curtail beach sand mining activities and deprive India of a developing sector.
According to a new research report by Global Market Insights, Inc, the rare earths market size will exceed U.S. $20 billion by 2024. It’s well known that the majority of the global rare earth production capacity is in China. However, China has not shown much inclination of sharing those resources with other nations.
Thus, the focus is on countries like India and Japan — specifically India, which has a sizable reserve.
Driving this sector is the demand for magnets in automobiles, and requirements in defense and energy generation. Electric cars, for example, rely on some of rare-earth metals.
Beach sand minerals and their derivatives find diverse applications in paints and other decorative materials, papers and plastics, and high-tech applications. At present, much of India’s share of domestic production, as well as exports, are done by private sector firms.
The GoI notification said export of beach sand minerals had been brought under the STE and shall be canalized through IRE. Beach sand minerals, permitted anywhere in the export policy, will now be regulated in terms of the new policy. One of the other sources of angst for private firms in the business is that they have already made huge capital investments by way of technology and production facilities.
According to the Financial Express report, beach sand minerals mining activity commenced in India in 1908. In addition, until 1998, other minerals were restricted only to public sector companies (except for garnet), but just after that the GoI embarked on a path of liberalization that allowed participation by the private sector.