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A front loader shifting soil containing rare earth minerals in a port in Lianyungang, China, in September 2010. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

China exported around 35,400 tons of rare earth minerals and metals in 2020 — a roughly 23% drop from 2019's total, according to data from China's customs authority and records maintained by Reuters.

Why it matters: It's the lowest recoded amount since 2015 for the world's leading miner, processor and exporter of the materials, which are crucial in the manufacturing of commercial electronics, renewable energy development and military equipment.

Yes, but: The decrease in exports is in part due to the coronavirus pandemic, which damaged global demand for the minerals and metals.

By the numbers: The fall also comes despite efforts from China's government to ramp up production of rare earths in the last year.

  • It raised its quota for rare earth mining over the summer by 6.1% to 140,000 tonnes — a record high for the country and its third annual quota increase in a row, according to Reuters.

The big picture: The U.S., a primary importer of Chinese rare earths, has sought to reduce its dependence on China after the country threatened to stop exporting the materials to the U.S. in 2019 in response to the trade war and the Trump administration's blacklisting of tech company Huawei.

Go deeper: Biden says he won't immediately remove U.S. tariffs on China

Go deeper

Jan 29, 2021 - World

WHO team visits China hospital that treated first COVID-19 patients

Members of the WHO team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

A World Health Organization team of researchers on Friday visited a hospital in Wuhan where China says some of the first coronavirus patients were treated, AP reports.

Why it matters: Friday marks the first in-person day of the team's investigation into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, almost a year since the first cases were reported.

59 mins ago - World

COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming

Recreated from Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals

South Africa alerted the world to the Omicron variant. Now data out of South Africa may serve as a warning of what we're facing.

Driving the news: South Africa recorded 11,535 new cases Thursday with 22.4% of tests coming back positive — up from an average of about 300 new cases, with a 2% test positivity rate 10 days earlier. The country's top public health officials expect that exponential rise to continue as Omicron rapidly becomes the dominant variant.

BuzzFeed to go public, after shareholders approve SPAC deal

Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed is set to become publicly traded on Monday, after shareholders of a SPAC called 890 Fifth Avenue Partners voted to approve a previously-announced merger.

Yes, but: The vast majority of the money the SPAC raised in January was yanked, a signal that investors aren't very optimistic about BuzzFeed's future prospects.