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Rare metals for US from Cathay

A new and rapidly growing category is moving up the ladder of 1981 exports from the People's Republic of China -- rare metals. The China Metallurgical Import & Export Company, set up by the government in 1980, released figures recently showing it has $300 million (US) worth of contracts for the first half of 1981, more than for all of 1980. They cover uncommon metals for industrial use.

Principal contract buyers have been aerospace, electronics, and defense industries of the United States. Some 1980-81 contracts were also signed with Japan, Britain, West Germany, and other European nations. Until 1980, many of the rare strategic metals needed by US manufacturers came only from the USSR, South Africa, Zaire, and other African countries.

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Included in the new China exports are some 40 metals -- including tungsten and molybdenum for use in steel processing and toolmaking; titanium, widely sought for metallurgy, chemicals, and aerospace needs; vanadium for hardening steel alloys; plus chromium, cadmium, strontium and germanium. Chinese exports on this new commercial scale have been made possible, officials said, because of improved Chinese extraction and engineering processes.

Geologists have designated China one of the few areas in the world where a majority of rare strategic metals are thought to exist in yet-unexploited deposits large enough for export. Estimates for 1982 exports total $1 billion (US).

Because of continued concern over the political stability of countries in southern Africa, users of strategic metals welcome any new supplier outside that area.

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