In the last day or two it has been widely reported that the total quantity of rare earths exported from China in 2012 was 16,265 t, per statistics from “Hong Kong-based China Customs Statistics Information Service Center”, with this figure representing “a drop of 3.5% compared to the year before”, i.e. 2011.
This would mean that the 2011 figure for total rare-earth exports from China was 16,855 t. The problem with that is that last year, the vice-director of the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology indicated that the figure for 2011 was 18,600 t, and this figure was also widely used and reported by other sources throughout 2012 – even as recently as last month, in the same article that I criticized recently for getting the smuggling numbers wrong.
So, which is it? 16,855 t or 18,600 t? If it is the latter, then the actual drop from 2011 to 2012, assuming that the figure of 16,265 t is accurate (quite an assumption, I’m now thinking), is closer to 12.6%, not 3.5%, as the newer value being implied for 2011 would suggest. A simple error? Deliberate manipulation? Who knows, but it is yet another discrepancy in a long list associated with these statistics.
It is disappointing to see industry and other commentators re-publishing these types of numbers once published by Chinese media sources, without doing the simplest of basic fact and number checking – or remembering the contents of pieces they re-published or quoted from just a month before.
That goes double for such commentators introducing errors of interpretation of their own. Recent examples include the rather curious notion that the US Department of Energy has control over production levels of rare earths in the US (reality check: it doesn’t), or the nonchalant mixing up of mining and export quota numbers in a dodgy attempt at sector analysis (with no-one apparently noticing the difference).
The lesson here, if there is one? Be sure to check and to double-check your sources of rare-earth sector data and information, and be mindful of the issues described above. Common-sense advice for any sector, of course.