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BEIJING, Nov 2 (Reuters) - China will cut rare earth export quotas for 2011, but only by a small amount after slashing them this year, the Commerce Ministry said on Tuesday, calling the squeeze on exports a step to save the environment.
China slashed export quotas this year by around 40 percent from 2009 levels, saying it must protect reserves from reckless exploitation, a move which has triggered weeks of international worries about whether China could use its dominance of supply to strangle exports.
It provides about 97 percent of global rare earth production and mined about 120,000 tonnes of rare earths in 2008.
A spokesman for China's Commerce Ministry, Yao Jian, told the official Xinhua news agency that in 2011 there would be further cuts in export quotas for rare earths, a group of 17 metals with magnetic, luminescent and other properties useful in computers, electronics and clean energy technology.
"Given that we've already had major reductions in export quotas over recent years, the extent of the fall in China's rare earth export volumes next year will not be great," the brief Xinhua report cited him as saying.
Yao's comments were the clearest confirmation yet that China will keep reducing rare earth ore exports, as it seeks to support domestic companies using the minerals.
Yao said the reduction in exports was needed "for the sake of protecting resources and the environment," according to Xinhua.
On Monday, another Chinese commerce official said the country's rare earth export quotas for 2011 will not be significantly cut from recent levels, reinforcing Beijing's efforts to soothe foreign companies, especially Japanese ones, worried about supply.
China holds about a third of the known, exploitable global reserves of rare earths, but it worries that its supplies will be depleted within decades at current rates of mining.
Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Daniel Magnowski