Rio’s China iron ore talks suspended

[] — Global miner Rio Tinto has ceased iron ore price talks with Chinese customers, the firm said on Friday, but it denied a media report the talks had ended because of the detention of its negotiators.

Australian Associated Press had quoted Rio Tinto’s iron ore boss, Sam Walsh, as telling reporters earlier in the day that the talks had been suspended because its Shanghai-based negotiating team had been detained on allegations of commercial espionage.

“At this point in time we’re not negotiating,” AAP quoted Walsh as saying after a business function in Perth.

“Remember we have our negotiators detained,” he added.

A Rio Tinto spokesman later confirmed that the company was no longer in talks with Chinese steel mills, though he denied this was because of China’s move in July to detain four Rio Tinto staff, including lead iron ore negotiator Stern Hu.

“Sam Walsh acknowledged there were no talks actively underway at the moment. The benchmark price was set months ago,” a Rio Tinto spokesman told Reuters.

“It’s got nothing to do with Stern,” the spokesman added.

Last month, the semi-official China News Service reported that China had suspended iron ore talks with Australian miners but then it quickly withdrew the story.

The report, which the agency later said was based on a false research report, sowed confusion and uncertainty in an industry that has been in flux for months, as price talks drag long past their deadline and become entangled with the detentions.

Rio Tinto’s negotiators were detained in an official crackdown on speculation in the Chinese iron ore trade, amid concerns that speculators had been ramping up spot prices and undermining the country’s steel industry.

The China Iron and Steel Association has been refusing to accept a 33 percent price cut, which was a benchmark level agreed by Japanese and South Korean steel mills in May.