COLUMN-China iron ore moves unlikely to have desired effect: – by Clyde Russell (Reuters India – April 22, 2013)

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(Reuters) – The Chinese have launched another attempt to wrest some control of the global iron ore market from the dominant big three miners, but it’s likely this latest salvo will fall short of the target.

Beijing is planning new rules to force importers to use a domestic trading platform for the steel-making ingredient rather than one backed by the miners.

China, which buys about two-thirds of the world’s seaborne iron ore, will refuse to grant new licences to importers unless they use the China Beijing International Mining Exchange (CBMX) platform, according to a Reuters exclusive story .

This physical trading platform operates in competition to the globalORE system, based in Singapore and backed by the top three producers, Brazil’s Vale, and the Australian pair of Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. The three are also members of the CBMX platform.

Under new rules, traders and steel mills seeking a new licence to import will now have to trade at least 500,000 tonnes of iron ore on the CBMX, a document on the regulations obtained by Reuters showed. Only Chinese firms are eligible for import licences.

If the Chinese platform can grab most of the volume in the market, it will become the benchmark and squeeze the globalORE system, perhaps forcing it to close.

The benefit to the Chinese would presumably be that a platform under their jurisdiction would be where the global miners were forced to come to trade.

Given the Chinese have in the past expressed concern about the market power of the big three, the view would appear to be that if the miners didn’t control the physical trade then the pricing would be fairer and more transparent.

China’s top economic planner even went so far as to accuse the major mining companies of manipulating the price of iron ore, saying in March they were behind the 83 percent rally in the benchmark Asian spot price between September’s three-year low and a peak of $158.90 a tonne in February.

This was an extraordinary accusation by the National Development & Reform Commission, especially since it came without any substance, other than a woolly claim that shipments were held back in order to control supplies and send a fake market signal.

The NDRC appeared to conveniently ignore the fact that the rally in prices coincided with record imports by Chinese steel mills, with the three months from November last year to January 2013 being the strongest on record.

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