Exclusive: China seeks to lock iron ore importers into trading platform

Sun Apr 21, 2013 5:15pm EDT
 
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By Ruby Lian and David Stanway

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China will refuse to grant new licenses to iron ore importers unless they participate in a domestic trading platform, in a fresh move by the world's biggest iron ore consumer to wrestle pricing power away from global miners.

China, which buys around two-thirds of the world's 1-billion-tonne plus sea-borne iron ore, has been attempting to regain the upper hand in pricing the steel making raw material since grudgingly accepting an industry-wide shift to spot pricing after four decades of a yearly-set price ending in 2010.

Under new rules, traders and steel mills seeking a new license to import will now have to trade at least 551,155 tons of iron ore on the platform set up by the China Beijing International Mining Exchange (CBMX), a document on the regulations obtained by Reuters showed. Only Chinese firms are eligible for import licenses.

China's first physical iron ore trading platform competes with the globalORE platform in Singapore, but the new rules, in a country with tens of thousands of iron ore traders, could give CBMX more business and boost liquidity.

Global miners BHP (BHP.AX: Quote), Vale (VALE5.SA: Quote) and Rio Tinto (RIO.AX: Quote) and Chinese steelmakers including Baoshan Iron and Steel (600019.SS: Quote) are members of both platforms.

China has long suspected that iron ore pricing is manipulated by some miners and traders and wanted a platform that it deems more transparent, although miners may be wary of Beijing gaining control if more business flows to the exchange, particularly after Chinese pressure over ore price levels.

Last month, China's top economic planning agency accused the world's top three miners and some traders of manipulating the market to push up prices that soared more than 80 percent to near $160 a 1.1 ton .IO62-CNI=SI in February from three-year lows in September.

"Some traders have already been verbally informed of this new rule and they are keen to increase trade on the platform to get the import qualification," said an industry source familiar with the matter.   Continued...