Production underway at
Asian steel giant
Boasteel, in Shanghai
 
Shanghai, China — MININGREVIEW.COM — 07 May 2009 – Chinese iron ore imports hit a record high for a third successive month in April, raising the stakes in the ongoing pricing battle between the Chinese steel sector and the world’s top international mining companies.

Iron ore imports rose to a new high of 53.5 million tonnes in April – up 24.2% from a year earlier, according to a report citing preliminary statistics, as posted on the website of the  Chinese Ministry of Transport. Reuters reports that this means China imported more iron ore in the last three months than in the preceding four.

An official figure will be issued early next week by the General Administration of Customs. Last month the ministry’s preliminary figure turned out to be more than 1 million tonnes too low.

The record imports will be seized on as leverage by both sides in annual benchmark iron ore price talks between China’s top mill, Baosteel and the top miners, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Vale.

Chinese steelmakers have been pushing for a 40 % price cut in this year’s talks, and an industry group executive told Reuters they should be able to get a price below the spot market, which means a cut of 30% or more.

But a slew of data showing solid domestic steel production recently is giving miners arguments to limit any price cuts.

According to some media reports in Australia, Rio Tinto iron ore division chief executive Sam Walsh has warned that the company may walk away from the negotiations if no agreement is reached by the end of June.