MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- China's demand for iron ore, copper, coal and aluminum will increase dramatically during the next 15 years before India takes the lead in its need for those commodities, global miner Rio Tinto Ltd. predicted in its annual report released Tuesday.
Rio Tinto chief executive Tom Albanese said the strong demand for iron ore clearly provided the most obvious option for production growth in Australia.
Albanese was optimistic about long-term growth prospects and said China's demand for iron ore, copper, coal and aluminum was expected to grow exponentially for the next 15 years.
"India is expected to follow, supporting a further potential wave of strong commodity demand," Albanese said.
He said Rio's move toward a joint venture with BHP Billiton to combine their massive iron ore operations in Western Australia's Pilbara region was a highlight of 2009.
The short-term outlook for mining and metals is also improving but will likely remain volatile, the report said.
Chairman Jan du Plessis said the company had turned itself around after what he called a "particularly testing" 2009.
Rio Tinto started 2009 with debt of around $38.7 billion, largely as a result of its 2007 takeover of Alcan but by Dec. 31 had cut that to $14.8 billion.
"It certainly felt at times as if we were experiencing an amplified version of the global financial crisis and its knock-on effect on business confidence, demand for commodities and availability of credit," du Plessis said.
Rio Tinto shares were up 21 cents, or 0.2 percent, at AU$75.23.