Whose pricing power? Big 3 said to be in talks to join China's new iron ore trading platform

Reuters reports that iron ore's three giants – BHP, Vale and Rio Tinto – are in "active" talks to join China's first physical iron ore trading platform according to the vice-Chairman
of the China Iron and Steel Association.

CISA together with the Beijing Mining Exchange and China's chamber of commerce focused on the mineral export industry launched the new platform in January in a bid to shift the balance of power in price negotiations away from the big three.

Combined BHP, Vale and Rio Tinto control nearly 70% of the 1 billion tonne annual iron ore seaborne trade.

Reuters reports "while Vale and BHP have so far been silent on their interest in the trading platform, Australian miner Fortescue Metals Group, which plans to triple its output to boost sales in China, has given guarded support."

Should the supermajors join the new platform it would mark the latest shift in the global iron ore business which has been completely transformed in less than a decade.

The price of 62% iron ore never strayed from $10 – $14/tonne for more than 20 years (1991 was a banner year – miners got all of $15.03 for their haul) with prices set on an annual basis in secretive negotiations.

Then at the end of 2004 there was a sea change and the big three have never looked back – they put up the price 72%, marking the start of a supercycle and the beginning of the end of the old pricing system.

After hitting a high above $180 in September last year iron ore tumbled to $116 in the space of a month, but has since recovered some of the losses. This year the Chinese import price for 62% iron ore fines has hovered on either side of the $140-level and is not expected to get back to record levels any time soon.

Read more on the transformation of the iron ore mining industry over the last decade.