Seatrade Maritime is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

China mulls monopolistic flavour of Rio Tinto - BHP tie up

China mulls monopolistic flavour of Rio Tinto - BHP tie up

Shanghai: Rio Tinto's and BHP Billiton's proposed iron-ore joint venture has "a strong monopolistic flavour" and Chinese firms are actively seeking ways to cope with it, writes Reuters citing reports in state media. China is the world's largest importer of iron ore and BHP-Rio together would account for 80% of Australia's exports of the ore, the Ministry of Commerce spokesman said this week, adding that China's worries about the deal were understandable.

"The potential deal has an obvious colour of monopoly. The joint venture is likely to have a big impact on the Chinese steel industry as China is the world's biggest iron ore importer," said Chen Yanhai, an official from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), according to CCTV.

"The deal should be subject to Chinese anti-monopoly law," Chen, the head of the raw material department of MIIT, added.

Rio Tinto scrapped a proposed $19.5bn tie-up with Chinese metals group Chinalco two weeks ago and instead raised $21bn through a $15.2bn rights issue and the iron ore joint venture with BHP.

According to China's anti-monopoly law, all business combinations must be cleared by the ministry if the joint global revenue of the companies involved exceeds 10 billion yuan ($1.8bn) or 2bn yuan in China.

But a review would not be needed unless two or more of the firms each had more than 400m yuan of revenue in China during the previous accounting year.

In the year ended June 30, BHP Billiton's revenue in China was $11.7bn while Rio Tinto's was $10.8bn, according to the companies' websites.

Chen also said that if the tie-up was found to be monopolistic, China might have to seek new policies and regulations to enable Chinese companies to have a bigger say in iron ore price talks, according to CCTV.

China would help domestic miners to improve their competitiveness and to reduce its reliance on iron ore imports, Chen said.

Responding to China's concerns, Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean told reporters in Canberra: "I think it's important to understand that the proposal that Rio and BHP have entered is to share facilities and to try and get efficiency and therefore costs down from those shared facilities.

"They will still operate as separate marketing arms. They will therefore be competitors and so there won't be any lessening of competition, and this is a message that I've conveyed to the Chinese ambassador, and I think that when the details of the proposal emerges, there will be acceptance of that."

Crean said the fallout between Chinalco and Rio had been an "eye-opener" for the Chinese and their state-owned enterprises to understand that acquisition deals also involved shareholders.
"I actually think it's going to be an important learning curve for China. The Chinese business community, state-owned enterprise or otherwise, needs to understand the important role that shareholders play in these sorts of plays," he said.

Commenting on Chinese steel firms' talks with global iron ore majors, MIIT's Chen said China's claim for a bigger price cut was justified as they have had to make sacrifices in the past due to soaring prices.

"Against the backdrop of the financial crisis, our demand for an iron ore price cut is reasonable and does no harm to the interests of our suppliers," CCTV quoted Chen as saying.

China, the world's largest steel producer, has been holding out for a minimum 40-45% cut after Japanese and Korean firms accepted 33%, and toughened its position last week by threatening to walk away from talks and reduce steel output.  [18/06/09]