Andrew Forrest yesterday commemorated a decade of shipping Pilbara iron ore to China — and started looking to add South America and battery minerals to Fortescue Metals Group’s portfolio.

The founder and chairman of Fortescue was at Cloudbreak, his company’s foundation mine, where 10 years ago the first train-load of iron ore left for China via Port Hedland.

Mr Forrest made clear that China had underpinned the launch of his self-styled third force in iron ore and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop backed the message.

“It’s a two-way relationship, FMG sells iron ore to Chinese businesses, Chinese businesses are supplying ore carriers, ore carts, ship loaders here to FMG,” she said.

Ms Bishop rejected claims by former Australian ambassador to China Geoff Raby that the relationship with China was poorly managed.

“That is profoundly misinformed commentary, the Australia China relationship continues at the highest levels,” she said.

Fortescue has suffered an increased discount for its relatively lower iron content ore since a pollution crackdown in China saw steel mills prefer higher grade ore to lower their emissions.

Mr Forrest said Fortescue was improving its grades but the focus would remain on the cost of the ore.

“We will have the lowest cost, the best value-in-use, and be China’s best friend,” Mr Forrest said.

He said Fortescue could replicate its success by applying its systems elsewhere.

“I want to get really clear, we are a leadership and management company — where you need operations, where you need leadership, call Fortescue,” Mr Forrest said.

He said battery materials opportunities including copper, lithium, nickel and graphene were being looked at and FMG was pursuing projects in Ecuador, Colombia and Argentina.

Fortescue shares closed down eight cents, or 1.6 per cent, at $4.90.

Image: Andrew Forrest, The West Australian.