Newly appointed Mitsui & Co director Sam Walsh will oversee assets the company co-owns with Rio Tinto.

Mitsui in the frame after Walsh appointment

The appointment of Sam Walsh as a director of Mitsui & Company this week has brought attention to the usually low-profile Japanese multinational, which according to BNiQ Search Engine data has been a major investor in Western Australia’s resources industry and is one of the state’s largest exporters.

The most recent BNiQ analysis of the state’s biggest exporters, undertaken in October last year, puts Mitsui in eighth position, with revenue of $3.3 billion from its WA assets.

That was down from around $4.7 billion in 2015 thanks to lower commodity prices, yet still enough to keep the company above CBH Group (ninth) and Hancock Prospecting (10th).

Tokyo-based Mitsui & Co has investments in a number of major WA industries.

One of those is Robe River Iron Associates, where Mitsui holds a 33 per cent stake, while Rio Tinto, where Sam Walsh had served as chief executive, owns a 53 per cent slice.

It also has a relationship with BHP Billiton, holding a 7 per cent equity share of four BHP WA Iron Ore projects, including Jimblebar.

Mitsui was loaned around $436 million from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, which is owned by that country’s government, to finance that investment.

Together with fellow Japanese player Mitsubishi Corporation, Mitsui & Co is additionally a shareholder in the Woodside Petroleum-operated the North West Shelf Venture, which exports around 15 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas annually.

Both Mitsui and Mitsubishi hold a stake of 8.3 per cent through joint venture vehicle Japan Australia LNG (Mimi).

Mitsui has an interest in two other WA energy projects – the Vincent and Enfield operations – where it holds 40 per cent and Woodside controls 60 per cent, and it additionally has coal investments on Australia’s east coast.

Agribusiness has also been on the menu for Mitsui, with the company holding a 25 per cent stake in exporter Plum Grove.

Another asset in the portfolio is Bunbury Fibre Exports, formerly known as Hansol PI, which was acquired by Mitsui in 2011.

The company is in the timber industry, and had revenue of $84 million in the year to March 2016, the most recent data available.

And then there’s salt.

Mitsu’s two operating subsidiaries in this sector, Shark Bay Salt and Onslow Salt, produce about 4mt annually between them, about a third of WA’s annual salt production as of last year.

Moving forward

Mr Walsh has picked up other directorships since leaving Rio Tinto in 2016 after a four year stint at the helm.

One is as the chairman of the Art Gallery of WA, while the second is as a trustee of the Perth Diocesan Trustees.

In October last year, he was appointed a board member of the Australia Council, which funds the arts sector.

There was a blip earlier this month, however, when Mr Walsh's performance-related pay was deferred by Rio Tinto on the back of an investigation into corruption issues at the Simandou iron ore project in Guinea.

Two Rio executives were dismissed over the Simandou matter last year.

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