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North Atlantic Potash, Rio Tinto strike joint venture

Potash being loaded onto a ship at Neptune Bulk Terminals in Vancouver, bound for overseas.

Laura Leyshon for The Globe and Mail/laura leyshon The Globe and Mail

North Atlantic Potash Inc., the Canadian subsidiary of Russia's JSC Acron, has signed a joint venture deal with global mining giant Rio Tinto PLC for potash exploration and a possible mine in Saskatchewan.

Financial terms of the deal were not revealed.

The agreement, announced Tuesday, relates to North Atlantic's potash permit holdings in the southern part of Saskatchewan's potash district.

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The joint venture will cover nine permitted areas that cover about 241,000 hectares that extend from the eastern shore of Last Mountain Lake southeast to Broadview.

The joint venture partners say they plan an extensive exploration program.

"This agreement is another step to maximize the development potential of our vast potash exploration holdings in Saskatchewan," said Arie Zuckerman, president of North Atlantic Potash.

"We strongly believe that together with the professional experience and financial capabilities Rio Tinto brings into this project, we will be able to be the next producing mine in Canada."

North Atlantic Potash holds nearly 1.1 million hectares and 26 exploration permits in the Saskatchewan potash belt.

The company is part of JSC Acron, a major fertilizer producer based in Russia, with 13,000 employees and sales last year of $1.6-billion (U.S.).

JSC Acron produces ammonia, nitrogen and complex mineral fertilizers, as well as organic and non-organic compounds. It has three plants and a global distribution network.

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Rio Tinto, which trades on the New York, London and Australian stock exchanges, is one of the world's major suppliers of aluminum, copper, diamonds, thermal and metallurgical coal, uranium, gold and industrial minerals.

The company has operations around the world and operates extensively in Canada.

In Canada, Rio Tinto owns the former Alcan, one of the world's biggest aluminum producers, and controls Iron Ore Co. of Canada, this country's biggest iron miner.

The global miner also controls the Diavik diamond project in the Northwest Territories and other businesses in Canada.

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