A partnership of Japanese and Korean companies has agreed to invest $1.95 billion to acquire 15% of Cia. Brasileira de Metalurgia e Mineração (CBMM), the world’s dominant producer of niobium. The partnership is made up of a Japanese investor group consisting of JFE Steel Corp. (JFE), Nippon Steel Corp. (NSC), Sojitz Corp. and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. (JOGMEC), and a Korean investor group consisting of major Korean steel producer POSCO and Korea’s National Pension Service (NPS).

Brazil hosts an estimated 80% of the world’s known niobium reserves, and CBMM is thought to hold rights to the best niobium reserves in Brazil. The company owns and operates a niobium mine, refining plant and metallurgical production facilities in the Araxá area of Minas Gerais state, and is the most comprehensive supplier of niobium products in the world.

The four Japanese companies will use two special purpose companies (SPC) to acquire a 10% stake in CBMM, and the two Korean companies will use a separate SPC to acquire a 5% stake. Each of the six companies will invest $325 million in CBMM and each will indirectly hold a 2.5% stake in the company. In addition to the acquisition of CBMM shares, JFE, NSC, POSCO and Sojitz have entered into a long-term niobium supply agreement with CBMM, assuring continuation of the stable relationship the companies have long had with the CBMM.

JOGMEC, a state-owned company, decided to participate in the consortium in accordance with the Japanese government’s policy to secure resources for the nation. The CBMM transaction represents the first equity participation by JOGMEC in an active mining operation, following an amendment to the JOGMEC law in 2010.

Niobium is distinguished by its ability to dramatically enhance the strength, durability and heat resistance of steel products through the addition of only trace amounts. High-grade and special steel products and superalloy products containing niobium include pipelines, automotive steel, large-scale construction steel, turbines and aircraft engines. Worldwide demand for niobium grew by about 10% per year from 2002 through 2009, buoyed by growing need for high-grade steel in emerging economies, including China and India. China in particular doubled its niobium imports over a four-year period to about 30% of global output.