China Owns the Heavy Stone

It’s pretty clear that without tungsten, a lot of things in this world will — literally — grind to a halt.

Now let’s ask, where’s the world’s tungsten? Here’s a recent pie chart of world tungsten reserves.

Estimated World Tungsten Reserves

In addition to its large reserve base (57%), China presently controls about 75% of the world’s output of tungsten. Characteristically, China’s national resource policy is to ensure that the long-term needs of its own industrial base are satisfied. In the past three years, the Chinese have begun to reduce export volumes, while at the same time diverting more and more tungsten output to domestic industry or to foreign companies that locate plants in China.

Does that sound familiar? It’s the same thing that the Chinese are doing with rare earths and other elements, like indium.

Here’s where things stand. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, China dominates world tungsten mining and primary processing. Tungsten availability to non-Chinese markets is tightening, and will doubtless continue to decline. Equally important, China is now becoming a major importer of tungsten concentrates and scrap materials.

Ongoing rapid growth in demand within China will ensure that competition for raw materials between Chinese and non-Chinese processors will continue and intensify. So it’s clear that there’s now an urgent need for increased tungsten output outside China.