Giant Chinese steelmaker WISCO is one of a number of Asian companies credited with helping foot the exploration and development bills for some of Canada’s major new mining projects.

The subsidiary of Wuhan Iron & Steel paid a major proportion of the Can$12.9 billion needed for Adriana Resources to develop its Lac Otelnuk iron ore project in Eastern Canada. It’s expected to become one of the biggest iron ore mines in the world.

Adriana Resources’ chief executive Allen Palmiere says he approached WISCO in 2009 for help. “Logically, the only way that made any sense was to go to an end-user as a partner, because they could absorb the slightly higher capital and because by the time it comes out in the wash they are getting their material at a huge discount. It’s impossible to access capital markets for that kind of funding, it just can’t be done.”

WISCO’s investment led to a 60% stake in the northern Quebec Lac Otelnuk project, which is due to start annually producing 50 million tonnes of iron ore pellets by 2017. WISCO will also own the right to 60% of production, guaranteeing supply for its steel mills for some 50 years.

Joint ventures similar to this one are becoming increasingly common in Canada, bringing together cash-strapped explorers and Asian partners in need of bulk commodities to feed the region’s rapid industrialization.

Canada’s investment banking sector says these partnerships are a way for explorers to fund their business instead of relying on public markets. China and India have helped to sustain commodity prices since the 2008-09 economic crisis and European sovereign debt crisis.

Another Canadian iron ore explorer, Century Iron Mines, has a joint venture agreement with WISCO which gives it access to 40% of the company’s output from three projects in the Quebec/Labrador area as well as a 25% stake in Century. New Millennium has partnered with Indian steel giant Tata Steel to develop two projects in the same region.

“I get a sense there’s more and more activity of Chinese looking to Canada as sort of an acquisition point,” says mining lawyer Michael Bourassa, who represented Adriana on the WISCO deal. “There is definitely an appetite out there from people looking in Canada. They use us as sort of a stepping stone to get to the assets, because a lot them are held by juniors and intermediates here in Canada.”

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