Base metals demand has remained steady despite a recent dive in prices, the chief executive of Teck Resources(TCKb.TO: Quote), Canada’s biggest base-metals miner, said on Tuesday.

“We don’t think there’s been any change in fundamental demand,” Teck CEO Don Lindsay told the RBC Global Mining and Materials Conference in Toronto.

Prices have been in retreat since mid-April — bellwether metal copper is down more than 20 percent — on concern over Europe’s debt troubles, weak U.S. economic data, and slower Chinese demand.

But Lindsay said the economic fundamentals that have underscored the metal market’s sharp rebound from the late 2008 crash are still in place, anchored by China’s push for urbanization, which has fueled demand for the copper, zinc, and metallurgical coal that Teck produces.

“We wouldn’t bet against China,” he said.

“We just sent a shipment of copper for the best treatment charges we’ve ever had… so we know how tight the copper concentrate market is.”

Teck recently reinstated its shareholder dividend due to strong prices, the company’s falling debt position, and lower capital cost requirements over the next two years that should allow the company to build its cash position.

The company cut the payout in late 2008 while struggling to pay off billions of dollars of short-term debt taken on to finance the acquisition of Fording Canadian Coal Trust, a move that made Teck one of the world’s top producers of coal used in the steelmaking process.

Lindsay said Teck is on pace to produce 23-1/2 million to 25 million tonnes of coal in 2010, which is up more than 25 percent from 2009.

Lindsay expects to benefit from China’s moves to build massive steelmaking plants along its coasts, which open it up to Teck’s seaborne coal shipments.

While there are large new coal-mining projects on the horizon, Lindsay said supply should remain tight over the next few years before the new ones — the Tavan Tolgoi project in Mongolia, for instance — reach production.

“We think we have three good years, negotiating years when the coal market will be tight,” he said.

($1=$1.05 Canadian) (Reporting by Cameron French; editing by Peter Galloway)

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