Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto has signed a pact to jointly develop its first bonded area operations to blend iron ore in China’s port of Dalian, the company says, as it moves to widen offerings for customers across Asia.

China, the world’s top iron ore consumer, brought in more than one billion tonnes of the steelmaking ingredient in 2019.

The MoU with Dalian Port Co Ltd allows Rio Tinto to also use the Chinese port as a transhipment hub, the company said, adding that it could help better serve steel mills in North China.

Many of China’s steel producing capacities lie in the northern area, with top producer Hebei province along with Liaoning province together accounting for more than 30 per cent of the national crude steel output.

The first batch of iron ore fines were blended from high-grade IOC concentrate from Canada and Rio Tinto’s SP10 from Western Australia, the mining giant said.

“The cooperation (with Rio Tinto) can effectively reduce the costs at both ends of the supply chain and provide more value-added services,” Zhang Yi, president of Dalian Port’s parent company Liaoning Port Group said.

Dalian port has blended over 46 million tonnes of iron ore within its bonded area since 2016 when it first started the operation, the most among Chinese ports, as per the statement.