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BHP, ArcelorMittal Scrap African Ore Venture Plan (Liberia and Guinea)

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Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) -- BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s biggest mining company, and ArcelorMittal have scrapped talks on a proposed iron ore joint venture in Liberia and Guinea.

“The companies were unable to reach a commercial agreement,” Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal said today in a statement. BHP and ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steelmaker, said in January they were in negotiations on combining mining interests in the two countries.

Prices for iron ore, the key ingredient in steelmaking, almost doubled in the past 12 months on rising demand from Asia. ArcelorMittal’s Nimba is located in northwest Liberia on a finger of land jutting into neighboring Guinea. Melbourne-based BHP said in its 2009 annual report that it was exploring the Nimba deposit in Guinea.

“There would have been scale and synergies and presumably there would have been some sharing of expertise, that it’s more likely ArcelorMittal would have benefited from,” said Gavin Wood, an analyst at Nomura Holdings Inc. in London. “I don’t think it’s hugely significant.”

BHP’s project may hold 600 million metric tons of iron ore and ArcelorMittal’s 1.5 billion tons, London-based Liberum Capital Ltd. analysts wrote in a report in January. In a separate statement, BHP also confirmed talks had stopped.

“ArcelorMittal will continue to develop its operations and iron ore interests in Liberia independently and is excited by the potential of this business,” the steelmaker said today. First production from its Liberia project is expected in the second half of 2011, it said.

The company planned to ship its first ore from Liberia in 2011 after slowing development last year because of a global slump in steel demand, Joseph Mathews, chief executive officer of the Liberian unit, said in a February interview. The project, costing more than $1.5 billion, would produce 12 million to 15 million tons from 2013, excluding any BHP venture, he said.

--Editors: Tony Barrett, Alastair Reed

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