RIO DE JANEIRO, April 10 (Reuters) - Chinese demand for iron ore will remain strong, defying expectations of a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy, the chief executive of Vale SA, the top producer of the mineral, said on Tuesday.
"Those who have been betting against Chinese growth since the 1990s will be wrong again," CEO Murilo Ferreira told reporters in Rio de Janeiro. "China is just getting going."
To help meet that demand, Vale expects to invest more than $50 billion to expand iron ore, nickel, copper, fertilizer, coal and other mining output. Of that, $35 billion will be spent over four years to complete its 20 biggest projects, Ferreira said. Vale has already spent $13.5 billion on those mines.
Another $19.5 billion is expected to be approved by the Rio de Janeiro-based company's board later this year for the 90-million-tonnes-a-year Serra Sul iron-ore mine project in Brazil's Amazon, he added. Serra Sul should start operations in 2016.
Serra Sul will raise iron-ore output from the Carajas region of Brazil's northern Pará state by about 90 percent and boost the company's overall output by almost a third to nearly 400 million tonnes a year.
Vale is responsible for between a quarter and a third of the world's 1 billion tonnes of sea-borne iron ore exports a year.
Ferreira's comments come after the International Monetary Fund warned o n T uesday that commodities exporters should brace for lower prices and slower world growth.
Brazil is the world's top coffee, beef and orange juice exporter and No. 2 soybean and iron-ore exporter.
China, the biggest iron-ore importer and steel producer, said on Tuesday that March iron-ore imports dropped 3 percent from February to 62.9 million tonnes. Oil and copper imports also fell.
While Chinese iron-ore imports fell in March, they rose 6 percent in the quarter from a year earlier, Ferreira said.
Because China has little high-quality ore of its own, it needs more from producers in Brazil and Australia, such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.
"China every day needs us more and more," he said.
The spot price of ore with 62 percent iron content in China rose 0.2 percent to $148.45 a tonne o n Tu esday, its highest in more than five months, according to Metal Bulletin. Iron ore is the main ingredient in steel.
The Serra Sul project will also include a doubling of Vale's Carajas Railway and the construction of a new iron-ore export terminal in Sao Luiz in Brazil's Maranhão state.
Vale gets 32 percent of its revenue from China and 46 percent from Asia, Ferreira said.
Vale preferred shares, the company's most-traded class of stock, fell 1.1 percent to 40.32 reais in Sao Paulo. The Bovespa index of the most-traded stocks on the Sao Paulo BM&FBovespa stock exchange fell 1.9 percent.