I wanted to buy some rare earth oxides and noticed the unit price is 6 or more times more expensive in the USA than if bought from China, even with international shipping included. Since China is the only country that mass produces these substance, all of the American sellers must source it from there too, which made me curious as to why it is so expensive here. Of course it could just be because the stateside sellers hike up the price for some nice profit margins, but my dad suggested it could be because of a tariff/duty imposed when bought from China.

It's hard and confusing for me to find useful information about tariffs/duties online. Would there would be any kind of fee or duty on the oxides if I bought them from a Chinese seller on Alibaba? If so, at what value of my purchase would the duty be enforced and how much extra would I be charged? If it makes any difference, I talked to a seller on Alibaba and the shipping is FOB (free on board).

Thanks for the help, feel free to comment if I need to include any additional information.

  • 1
    The term "FOB" is ambiguous without a location attached. It could be FOB Beijing, FOB Los Angeles, etc.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 6, 2016 at 14:32

1 Answer 1


There was a quota (from 2010 to January 2015) and high tariff on exports of rare earth metals from China under Chinese law which the World Trade Organization under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade of 1994 (GATT) ordered it to remove in March of 2015 and it did agree to remove in April of 2015. These were removed as of May 2015.

This had the effect of pushing the sole U.S. producer, Molycorp, to the brink of bankruptcy and raising national security concerns because rare earth metals are a component of many military systems like guided missiles.

Donald Trump has floated the idea of imposing a 45% import tax on imported rare earths, but obviously, has not been able to implement this idea at this point.

There would probably not be a significant tariff if you bought it at this time. Higher prices from U.S. providers may reflect a high historical price that they paid for their inventory during the quota and tariff regime, which they are hoping to recover from buyers who are required for one reason or another to buy from U.S. suppliers.


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