Comply with NR-REE export moratorium, minister reminds state govts

KUALA LUMPUR: State governments have been reminded to comply with the moratorium on the export of non-radioactive rare earth elements (NR-REE), which has been in effect since Jan 1.

Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad said a reminder letter on the matter had been issued to all state governments on March 6.

"The implementation of this moratorium was communicated to all state governments through a letter dated Dec 20, 2023.

"Nevertheless, the ministry received appeals from state governments to reconsider the moratorium.

"During a cabinet meeting on Feb 21, the prime minister stressed that state governments must abide by the existing policies, especially those related to NR-REE export mining operations, which fall under the government's jurisdiction," he said.

He was responding to Lee Chuan How (Pakatan Harapan-Ipoh Timur) on the status of the ban on REE exports during the technological transition for its processing and downstream industry.

Nik Nazmi said about 16,000 tonnes of rare earth oxide, which were mined illicitly in five states, were exported to China.

He said the operations were located in forest reserves in Sik in Kedah, Lipis in Pahang and Pengkalan Hulu and Kuala Kangsar in Perak, and two other mines were located on private land in the Meranti and Jelebu districts of Negri Sembilan.

"We are aware of the report from China as mentioned by Ipoh Timur (referring to Lee), about the pilot project in Kenering, where some 7,000 tonnes of rare earth carbonate to produce 3,000 tonnes of rare earth oxide had come from the project.

"We estimate that 16,000 tonnes of rare earth oxide were from illegal mining operations," he said.

He was responding to a supplementary question by Lee, which referenced a report in China claiming that 19,081 tonnes of rare earth oxide from Malaysia were imported by China, valued at RM975 million.

He said that there was competition to develop the NR-REE industry in Malaysia, with China seemingly in the lead.

However, he said the United States, Europe, Japan, South Korea and Australia had also shown their interest.

"Our stand is that we are open to it, considering we already have the Lynas processing facility, which is the largest (NR-REE) processing facility outside of China," he said.

He said the nation needed to develop the industry to complement the renewable energy and electric vehicle sectors.

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