March 20, 2012 / 1:47 AM / 5 years ago

BHP Billiton sees China iron ore demand flattening

PERTH, March 20 (Reuters) - BHP Billiton, the world's biggest miner, is seeing signs that iron ore demand from top consumer China is flattening but is pushing ahead with its ambitious plans to expand production.

"Growth is going to flatten off," BHP's iron ore division president, Ian Ashby said ahead of the Global Iron Ore & Steel Forecast Conference in Perth on Tuesday.

Chinese demand for iron ore has been the driving force behind years of expansion work by the world's biggest mining companies. More than 100 million rural Chinese are projected to settle in towns and cities in the next decade, requiring unprecedented amounts of steel for housing and infrastructure.

But earlier this month, China cut its 2012 growth target to an eight-year low of 7.5 percent.

BHP has being pursuing a strategy of running at full production and expanding capacity in long-life, low-cost commodity assets.

Ashby said BHP was sticking with its $10 billion iron ore expansion plan and was mining ore at a rate of 165-170 million tonnes per year. That is above its production guidance of 159 million tonnes in fiscal 2012 ending June 30, maintaining the company's No.3 global ranking in iron ore behind Vale and Rio Tinto .

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