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Success in China boosts metal giant Rio Tinto

China accounted for a record 57 percent of the 2021 global revenue of London-based Anglo Australian metals and mining giant Rio Tinto Group Plc, the world's biggest iron ore miner.

Rio Tinto is anticipating more growth, investment and local partnership opportunities in China where it has had a presence for over 120 years, a top company official said.

"China is massively important for Rio Tinto as we are selling more than 50 percent of our products to the country, which has also sustained the company's cash flows in the past few years," said Jakob Stausholm, chief executive officer of Rio Tinto, during an interview on Tuesday.

"For the last few decades China has successfully positioned itself as an industrial hub of the world and based on the current robust cooperation with China, we expect more cooperation with China in the application of digitalization in the future, as China has achieved substantial progress in fields of 5G and artificial intelligence, which is also a trend that Rio Tinto is striving toward."

Last year, Rio Tinto's net profit was a record $21.09 billion, up from $9.77 billion in 2020. The 116 percent year-on-year surge was in line with the industrywide solid financial performance of resources companies on the back of a sharp rise in commodity prices.

Zhu Yi, a senior analyst for metals and mining at Bloomberg Intelligence, said China's steady growth and sustained economic development boost demand for metals. China, she said, is now the largest consumer of metals like refined copper, primary aluminum and refined zinc, accounting for 52 percent, 60 percent and 50 percent, respectively, of the world's total consumption in 2020.

"High demand drives up China's output of refined metals, with refined copper, primary aluminum and refined zinc accounting for 39 percent, 57 percent and 46 percent, respectively, of global output in 2020; and requirements for imported raw materials like bauxite, copper concentrate, and zinc concentrate have been rising," Zhu said.

Stausholm said Rio Tinto is committed to a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with China. Over 120 years, Rio Tinto's partnership with China has extended from sales to include exploration, mining joint ventures, capability building, technical improvement, research and development, blockchain and climate change, he said.

Rio Tinto has been working with leading Chinese centers of expertise, including China Baowu and Tsinghua University, to develop new methods and technologies for environmentally friendly steelmaking that will reduce emissions and improve the efficiency of resource usage.

Committed to using digital innovation to improve the security and efficiency of cross-border trade, Rio Tinto and China Baowu pioneered the industry's first fully-integrated RMB paperless trade in May 2020.

Launched in 2019, Rio Tinto's portside business now has the capability to serve customers from 14 ports across China's coastal zone.

Leveraging the processing and blending capability of Chinese ports, Rio Tinto can now blend specific products from different parts of the world like Australia and Canada, to create new products that meet the needs of small and medium-sized Chinese customers that do not participate in the seaborne market.

Rio Tinto recently established the China Technology and Innovation Center in Beijing to better connect its global operations with China's technology and innovation capability.

The center aims to become a global research and development hub for Rio Tinto to drive innovation and deliver technical solutions, and its immediate priority is to develop a China technology strategy and implementation plan, company executives said.

"We have already benefited greatly from China's rapid technological advances through our existing Chinese partnerships, and we are very excited about the prospect of further technical collaboration through the center, as China pursues a new stage of stable growth through high-quality development driven by technological innovation," said Nigel Steward, chief scientist with Rio Tinto.

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