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UPDATE 1-China July rare earth exports hit highest since Dec, easing supply fears

fears@

* China July rare earth exports at 5,243 tonnes

* Beijing has mooted restricting supply to U.S. in trade row

* China rare earth association accuses U.S. of 'bullying' (Adds year-to-date number, background)

BEIJING, Aug 8 (Reuters) - China's rare earth exports rose for a second month in July to their highest since December, customs data showed on Thursday, despite worries over supply from the world's top producer of the materials amid its trade dispute with the United States.

Exports of the group of 17 chemical elements used in consumer electronics and military equipment came in at 5,243 tonnes last month, according to General Administration of Customs data. That was up 32.2% from 3,966 tonnes in June and up 15.8% from 4,529 tonnes in July 2018.

China has raised the prospect of limiting rare earth exports to the United States in retaliation for U.S. tariffs, another batch of which are set up come into force from September on around $300 billion of Chinese goods.

Beijing has not publicly announced any restrictions but is also yet to issue China's closely-watched rare earth output quotas for the second-half of 2019.

Shares in Chinese rare earth companies have surged on speculation prices will rise if the minerals become the next front in the trade war.

China's rare earth association on Wednesday criticised U.S. "bullying" on trade and said it supported Chinese counter-measures, although no rare earth-related trade action was mentioned.

In the first seven months of 2019, China's rare earth exports, which can widely fluctuate, came in at 28,476 tonnes, down 7.3% year-on-year. (Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Joseph Radford)