Chinese efforts to gain influence over a vital commodity have come to naught
中国在争夺重要资源话语权上劳而无获

THE offer that BHP Billiton, a mining conglomerate, made in mid-October to buy United Minerals, a prospecting firm with operations near BHP’s iron-ore mines in the Pilbara region of Australia, came with one notable string attached: United must abandon plans to sell an 11% stake to China Railway Materials Group, a state-owned Chinese firm. If United’s shareholders accept the A$204m ($187m) BHP is proffering, as their managers recommend, it will mark another defeat in the Chinese government’s concerted but largely fruitless campaign to gain more influence over the market for iron ore.
伴随着必和必拓比利登矿业集团(以下必和必拓)在10月中旬发出的对United Minerals(一家紧邻于必和必拓在澳大利亚皮尔巴拉地区铁矿山的矿石勘探公司)的收购要约,有一项引人注目的收购条件:即United Minerals必须放弃向中国铁路物资总公司(一家中国国有企业)出售11%的股权。如果United的股东们像管理层的劝告那样接受必和必拓价值2.04亿澳元(合1.87亿美元)的收购要约,这将是中国政府在争夺市场话语权的铁矿石之战中的又一次铩羽。

The wares of Western mining giants, especially iron ore, are vital to the vast infrastructure projects that are transforming China. The government is nervous about this dependence, especially because just three firms—BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Vale—dominate the international trade in iron ore. So China’s government, acting through state-controlled companies, has been trying to overturn this oligopoly by encouraging Chinese customers to negotiate purchases in unison, by hunting for alternate supplies and even by buying a stake in Rio, all to little effect.
西方矿产巨头们的资源,尤其是铁矿石对于中国快速发展所出现的大量的基础设施项目是至关重要的。尤其因为国际贸易中流通的铁矿石仅由必和必拓、力拓和淡水河谷这三家寡头所掌控,中国政府对于矿石依赖症显得忧心忡忡。基于此因,中国政府一直试图通过运作国有控股的公司并鼓励国内采购方联合起来进行采购谈判、寻找替代供应商甚至入股力拓公司来扭转矿石求过于供的局面,可效果却微乎其微。

Chinese firms have managed to make small investments in iron-ore firms, especially in the Pilbara, the closest big ore-producing region. Sinosteel, a state-owned steelmaker, snatched Midwest, a small Australian producer, last year. In August Baosteel, the partly state-owned firm that is China’s biggest steelmaker, paid A$286m for 15% of Aquila Resources, a producer of iron ore and coal. Most notably, Chinalco, a state-controlled aluminium firm, bought 9% of Rio Tinto last year.
实际上中国企业在海外已经运作了一些铁矿石的小投资,尤其是在皮尔巴拉这个最近的大型矿石生产区。中国中钢集团公司(一家国有钢厂)去年收购澳大利亚一家小型铁矿石生产厂家Midwest;今年8月半国有性质的宝钢集团(中国最大的钢铁公司)以2.9亿澳元收购Aquila Resources公司15%的股份;最熟知的是中铝公司(一家国有铝业公司)去年购得力拓集团9%股权的交易。

But when Chinalco subsequently agreed to raise its stake to 18% as part of a $19.5 billion deal to bolster Rio’s finances, the Australian firm balked at the last minute thanks to recovering commodity prices and hostility from shareholders. Instead, Rio and BHP agreed to merge their iron-ore operations in the Pilbara through a joint venture, creating just the kind of titan that China had feared when it opposed BHP’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to take over Rio last year.
然而作为一项195亿美元注资力拓以缓解其财政压力的交易的一部分,当中铝后来计划将交易股权提升至18%时,这家澳企却放了中铝的鸽子。由于矿石价格的回升以及股东们的极力反对,力拓在最后一刻毁约了,反倒与必和必拓合资经营双方在在皮尔巴拉地区的铁矿石业务,组成了一个无以匹敌的铁矿石巨头。而这也正是中国去年反对必和必拓向力拓发出的收购要约时所担心的。

Even before BHP and Rio decided to team up, China had been trying to undermine the pricing power of the big iron-ore firms. For decades the annual price-setting negotiations between the big suppliers and leading steelmakers had been dull affairs: prices rose only gradually. But China’s sudden emergence as a big buyer of iron ore (it now snaps up more than half of all exports) pushed prices up fourfold between 2002 and 2008.
事实上在必和必拓与力拓决定联合之前,中国就已经试图打破铁矿石巨头们的定价权。几十年来铁矿石的主要供应商们与钢厂们之间的年定价谈判一直都是件不怎么惹人眼球的事:价格逐年缓慢上涨。然而当中国作为铁矿石购买的大户参与进来以后(中国铁矿石需求已占全球贸易量一半以上),从2002年至2008年间铁矿石价格已翻了四番。

In past years the price agreed between one of the mining giants and the first big Japanese or South Korean steelmaker to strike a deal became the benchmark for all other buyers and sellers. In 2005, as a mark of China’s importance, Baosteel took over as the principal negotiator. But it was still forced to swallow a succession of big increases in prices—72% in 2005, for example, and 96% last year for Australian ore.
这些年来铁矿石年价格的基准都是铁矿石供应商巨头中的任一方与日韩最大的钢厂达成首发价后,其他跟随。作为中国在市场上重要性的标志,2005年宝钢作为中方的谈判代表首度参与铁矿石年定价谈判,然而它还是不得不吞下一连串价格暴涨的苦果—例如2005年涨72%,第二年的澳矿涨96%。

In an effort to counter what China regards as the undue power of the mining giants, negotiations this year were handled by the China Iron and Steel Association (CISA), a trade body that supposedly represents the country’s entire steel industry. CISA made it clear early that it wanted a cut of around 40% to reflect the toll taken on steelmaking by the economic turmoil. But increasingly acrimonious talks dragged on past a succession of deadlines until South Korea and Japan pre-empted China and agreed to a cut of just 33%.
为了颠覆这种被中国认为是矿业巨头的不合理的权力,今年的中方谈判代表改为中国钢铁工业协会,一家作为中国整个钢铁工业的贸易代表。中钢协很早就明确表示,为了反映市场变化对钢铁生产厂家造成的损失,今年的价格应该有一个40%的降幅。然而这场艰苦持久的唇枪舌战拖过了一连串的最终期限,直到日韩先于中国与矿头敲定一个降幅33%的首发价。

Meanwhile cracks had already appeared in Chinese solidarity. As the economy perked up steel mills bought ore first on the spot market and later from the big three at a “provisional price” that exceeded what CISA was demanding.
而这个时候,中方团队开始出现了分裂。随着经济的回暖,钢厂们不顾中钢协的规定,起先是在现货市场采购矿石,之后以临时价向三大巨头进行直接采购。

Further grist was added in July with the detention of Stern Hu, the head of Rio’s marketing operation in China, and three Chinese colleagues. They were eventually charged with obtaining commercial secrets, although Rio maintains that they were merely collecting commonplace commercial data. The arrests were widely interpreted as a signal that China was fed up with the miners’ intransigence over prices and as a rebuke to Rio for pulling out of the Chinalco deal.
另外一个谈资便是力拓上海业务经理胡士泰与其他三名中国员工被拘留的事件。尽管力拓坚持否认其收集国内钢厂的日常商业数据,但胡等四人的最终定刑为“侵犯商业秘密罪”。此次拘捕被广泛地解读为中国对于矿厂们的强硬态度的一个忍无可忍的信号,也是对于力拓毁约中铝的一种谴责。

As negotiations over next year’s price begin, China faces a bigger threat: the end of the benchmark system altogether. BHP has long wanted to replace the annual changes in price with quarterly ones, based on the spot market. Rio has recently come round to BHP’s view, doubtless because it agrees that prices will rise steadily in the coming years and a quarterly system will allow it to increase prices more often. China, meanwhile, will find itself with even less sway over the price than when it began its campaign.
随着明年定价谈判的启动,中国将面临一个更加严峻的环境:现有的基准定价体系的彻底终结。必和必拓很早前就希望将年定价体系根据现货市场的状况改为季度定价体系。由于确信明年矿价肯定会稳步走高,而季度定价又恰好给巨头们更多的提价机会,力拓最近也有和必和必拓想法走近的意思。而这时的中国,在定价战役才刚开始的时候,就发现可谈的空间甚至比以前反而更小了。