China is suspending exports of tungsten ore shortly after proclaiming itself the world's largest supplier.
A statement Wednesday from the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations & Trade said officials ceased signing new tungsten ore contracts on Jan. 1. No reason was given for the delay in announcing the move.It is designed "to protect domestic resources" and help regulate international supply and demand, a ministry statement said. The suspension is ''temporary," but no time limit was given.
"It is not so much that there is a problem with the international market, but that the internal situation is chaotic," a ministry spokesman said.
Tungsten is a heavy, hard, heat-resistant metal used chiefly as tungsten carbide in cutting tools and in special steels and other alloys. China is believed to be the world's largest producer.
Late last month, China said it was also the world's primary supplier, accounting for over two-thirds of global supply.
China exported 8,000 tons of tungsten ore in the first nine months of last year, down from 24,000 tons in the corresponding 1989 period. That appears to be a pattern: In the first six months of last year, exports were 6,000 tons against 15,000 tons in the 1989 first half.
Exports of products and ore combined were said to have risen 4 percent in 1989 over the previous year, indicating a surge in product sales.
China imposed export bans on copper and aluminum in mid-1988, saying there were shortages at home. Restrictions were placed on overseas sales of lead and zinc in 1989 by introducing 50 percent tariffs and setting quotas.
Those moves were attributed to a fall in world prices, which also affected tungsten ore and antimony. In mid-1990, tungsten ore was selling for US$3,000 a ton compared with US$5,600 in 1988.
Early last year, China took steps to stamp out so-called parallel goods, unofficial exports not sanctioned by the government. It gave control of high- priority goods solely to China National Minerals & Metals Import/Export Corp.
This cut off quotas for exports to such places as the Shenzhen special economic zone just across the border from Hong Kong. Unauthorized sales were rife there and in Shanghai.