china frees up australian iron ore

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    BEIJING -- Chinese authorities have released 150,000-200,000 tonnes of Australian iron ore, which had been stranded at ports for about a month because of delays in issuing import permits, industry sources said.

    The sources said customs officials had last Thursday allowed three buyers to take the iron ore, which is used for making steel. They had been at ports since late February or early March.

    In March, traders in China said at least 300,000 tonnes of high-priced spot iron ore from Australia was stuck at ports after Beijing delayed issuing permits.

    It came as Chinese steel mills and miners in Australia, including Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, were in a deadlock over term prices for the 2008 year starting in April.

    The industry sources said there were more iron ore cargoes stuck at ports and that this did not necessarily mean miners and Chinese steel mills, headed by Baosteel, were closer to an agreement.

    A senior trader at one of China's top trading houses said the country's medium-sized steel mills had reached a provisional agreement with Rio Tinto to pay 71 per cent more for term cargoes from its Hamersley mine to be shipped from this month.

    Meanwhile, Vale China president Michael Zhu has slammed moves by Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton to scrap the benchmarks for contract global iron ore prices, The Australian Financial Review reports.

    "Our position is very clear -- the benchmark price for iron ore we want to keep," Mr Zhu told a conference in Beijing.

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