Business Secretary Vince Cable has said he is hopeful a buyer will be found for the partially-mothballed Corus steel plant on Teesside.
Dr Cable said talks with Thai firm SSI, which could see a return to steelmaking at the Redcar site, were at "an advanced stage".
He toured the Teesside Cast Products (TCP) plant and met Corus management.
About 1,600 jobs are being lost at the facility following the collapse of a major contract.
Dr Cable said he had been in talks with bosses of Corus parent company Tata Steel during a visit to India last week.
He said: "I think potentially there is good news with the acquisition that is proceeding which will potentially re-open the blast furnace."
He also welcomed an announcement by Corus that a scheme to help workers at risk of redundancy at the plant has been extended for a further three months until the end of November.
But the Community union accused Dr Cable of embarking on a "mystery tour" of the steel factory, claiming there was little information about the visit before it went ahead.
General secretary Michael Leahy said: "Despite promising to engage with the workforce during the election campaign, his first visit to Teesside in the three months since the election was unpublicised to allow the minister to avoid meeting those whose jobs are most at threat.
"Vince Cable needed to show leadership and take action, unfortunately his mystery tour today will be little comfort to the workforce or their families.
"Corus and the government appear to continue to drag their feet while making little progress towards resuming steel production, which would give the biggest boost to the Teesside economy."
A Corus spokesman said the company was still "actively involved" in talks to find a buyer for the Redcar plant.
Last month a North East consortium withdrew from discussions to save the plant, claiming management at Corus appeared "unwilling" to engage in discussions.