China’s gallium export volume for December hit highest level since July, customs data shows

China’s decision in December to resume the export of large amounts of a mineral vital to manufacturing cutting-edge technology like semiconductors led to a leap in sales after virtually choking off global shipments for months.

Latest customs data showed China shipped 7.3 metric tonnes of gallium in December – close to its 2022 average of 7.9 metric tonnes per month.

After almost no exports were recorded in August and September, a small amount of gallium was allowed to leave the country in October and November – 0.25 and 1.53 metric tonnes respectively.

Beijing cited national security concerns in requiring Chinese exporters of gallium and germanium from August to obtain licenses from the government and share information on their overseas clients and the commodity’s intended use.

Both metals and their chemical compounds are used to make advanced chips, telecommunications equipment and electric vehicles.

China is the world’s largest producer of the two elements, accounting for more than 95 per cent of global gallium output and 67 per cent of germanium.

Before last year’s regulations were introduced, China saw a surge in exports – about 7.5 metric tonnes of gallium in July – as buyers rushed to lock in supply.

However, the new figures for germanium were less rosy. China exported a mere 3.3 metric tonnes of wrought germanium in December compared to 8.78 metric tonnes in July.

China’s top fabless chip firms, such as Loongson, estimate big losses in 2023

No germanium was sold abroad in August, while only a trickle left the country in October and November – 0.64 and 0.72 metric tonnes respectively.

For the whole of 2023, China exported about 41 metric tonnes of germanium and 44 metric tonnes of gallium.

Many in the West believe Beijing imposed its restrictions to retaliate against Washington’s export controls aimed at keeping China from producing advanced semiconductors as the two global power remain locked in a tech war.

Western companies have been dependent on China’s supply of the two crucial components.

China’s gallium and germanium exports tumble as shipment controls take effect

Despite Beijing’s export rules, there had been no “dramatic reductions” in the supply of gallium and germanium, according to Chris Miller, author of the book Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology.

China realised that cutting off supplies would be “costly to itself as well as to the US and other countries”, Miller said.

“It’s not a costless tool for China to use because it would create disruptions that would ricochet through electronic supply chains and hit China too.”

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