Mr Akio Mimura president of Nippon Steel, the world’s third biggest steelmaker, is meeting Arcelor CEO in Paris on 2 February amid speculation the Japanese group could act as a potential merger partner to help the European group fend off a hostile bid from Mittal Steel. The discussion between Akio Mimura and Mr Dollé is part of a long-arranged meeting, described by Arcelor as routine, to consider progress on their five-year-old alliance, in which the two companies share process technologies involving high value automotive steel. But their encounter has taken on added importance, as Mr Dollé has said he is open to discussions with other companies about uniting and making it more difficult for Netherlands-based Mittal to take over his company. Mr Dollé said on 31 January in London such an option was one of several he and his board were studying to prevent Arcelor being acquired. He said any future tie-up would probably not involve a European company, on the grounds that such a combination would almost certainly be blocked by competition authorities.