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Lakshmi Mittal, chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal looks on in this 2008 file photo.

B MATHUR/REUTERS

ArcelorMittal is exploring selling a stake in its $10-billion (U.S.) Canadian iron ore business, as the world's biggest steel company struggles to cope with the downturn in its key commodity.

People familiar with the matter said ArcelorMittal had appointed advisers and had been sounding out potential buyers of a stake in the business, formerly known as Québec Cartier Mining.

The entire business, which produced about 15 million tonnes of iron ore concentrate last year, could be worth between $8-billion and $10-billion, the people added. ArcelorMittal is considering selling a minority stake, probably about 30 per cent.

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Some Chinese companies and commodities trading houses had expressed an interest in investing in the business, the people said. ArcelorMittal and the banks declined to comment.

The steel maker has expanded its iron ore business in recent years, increasing in-house output as a way of controlling input costs for its steel production.

But, since the financial crisis, the group has come under pressure, as the global steel industry battles a prolonged period of overcapacity caused by a collapse in European demand and slowing growth in Chinese consumption.

Lakshmi Mittal, the chairman, chief executive and main owner of ArcelorMittal, said in July that he saw no lifting of the gloom around the steel industry and the company has been closing or mothballing plants around Europe.

The company – which had $22-billion of net debt at the end of June – has also pledged to shore up its balance sheet by selling non-core assets.

One sector specialist described ownership of iron ore assets as an "indulgence" in the current environment.

ArcelorMittal, through its mining business, is the fourth largest iron ore producer globally, and has said it plans to reach 84 million tonnes of annual output by 2015.

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At ArcelorMittal Mines Canada, renamed by Arcelor after it acquired Québec Cartier Mining as part of its 2006 takeover of Canadian steelmaker Dofasco, the company is expanding capacity at its Mont Wright mine to 24 million tonnes a year and improving the port and rail facilities linked to the mine.

The expansion of the mine and concentrator is expected to cost $1.2-billion, which could increase to $2.1-billion (Canadian) were additions to the pellet plant also approved.

The Canadian deposits are large but lower grade than some of ArcelorMittal's other resources, particularly the group's early-stage Baffinland development project in the Canadian Arctic.

Québec Cartier Mining Company was founded in 1957 by US Steel, starting to develop deposits at Lac-Jeannine in Quebec. The business was sold to a group led by Dofasco in 1989, with the Canadian company subsequently buying out its partners.

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