Mitsui strengthens Australian relationship

Mitsui Australia CEO and chair Noboru Katsu at Shark Bay Salts.

Mitsui Australia chair and CEO Noboru Katsu is no stranger to partnerships, having not only collaborated with global businesses, but also connected communities.

With almost 40 years at Japan’s Mitsui & Co under his belt, Katsu has represented the company in Norway, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

In April last year, Katsu added Australia to this list when he became the chair and chief executive officer of the company’s operations in the country.

Katsu spoke to Australian Mining at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne last month and discussed the value of a strong partnership.

His three key values for creating and maintaining a positive long-term working relationship are respect for society and the environment, contribution to the partnership, and a relationship built on trust.

“Given our integrated and dependent world, no one company, no one sector can go it alone,” Katsu tells Australian Mining.

“Mitsui is not here as a silent investor; we are here to contribute to our joint ventures, and each contribute with our unique set of skills with a shared vision on how we can grow the partnership.

“It is also important to respect your partner and their society and environment, and all of the stakeholders of your partner’s company, including building relationships with their community.

“Trust takes a long time to build but only takes one day to lose, which is why we really value those long-term, win-win relationships built on trust.”

Mitsui has offices in 66 countries around the world and has bridged a relationship between Australia and Japan since 1901, when the company opened its first Australian office in Sydney.

The company is Australia’s fourth largest exporter with annual export values amounting to $8 billion on an equity basis.

Mitsui employs people across Australia through its joint ventures with partners including BHP and Rio Tinto.

One of its most notable working relationships in Australia is with Komatsu Australia, in which it has a 40 per cent equity stake.

In Australia, there are currently 135 trucks equipped with Komatsu’s automated haulage systems technology in use across six mine operations, with this number set to more than double in the next two years.

Mitsui’s first Australian joint venture dates back to 1963 at the Moura coal mine in Queensland’s Bowen Basin region.

Recognising the Japanese steel industry’s need for a stable, long-term supply of coking coal, Mitsui formed a joint venture with a consortium including Thiess to develop the Moura coal mine.

Now operating as the Dawson mine under Anglo American, this project was the first of its kind by a Japanese company in Australia and became a model for subsequent foreign investments in Australia’s resources sector.

Mitsui remains invested in the project and this year, Katsu visited the town where it all began to attend Moura’s annual Coal and Country Festival, an event Mitsui has supported for the past 10 years.

For Katsu, the relationship between Australia and Japan means more than business alone, it is also about the two countries sharing their cultures and creating friendships.

“While I may have only been here for a short time, Mitsui has a long and committed history with Australia,” Katsu says.

“Mitsui’s very first joint venture in Australia started in Moura, a small town in Queensland and we are conscious of our link to the community.

“At the Moura Festival, I served traditional Japanese foods such as yakisoba, which is Japanese fried noodles, dumplings and tazukuri to the community.

The cultural interaction is about more than Katsu sharing delicious food with a  regional Queensland community; Mitsui also supplies salt from its wholly owned subsidiary Shark Bay Salt for sumo wrestling tournaments back in Japan.

“Salt is regarded as a purifying agent for sumo tournaments,” Katsu explains. “The Shark Bay Salt was used to cleanse the ring in one of the major sumo tournaments in Japan this year.

“Sumo wrestling is a 300 or 400-year-old religious ceremony, and the salt is used to purify the ground before the sumo wrestlers pray in front of God.”

Mitsui has also invested in fostering the relationship between Australia and Japan, as one of the first companies to support the Australian Government’s New Colombo plan.

The initiative offers Australian university students scholarships to study in the Indo-Pacific region, including Japan.

Each year, the company hosts 14 students at its Tokyo head office for a two-week immersion program, providing them with opportunities to learn about Mitsui’s business, Japanese industries and the relationship between Australia and Japan.

“We want to create stronger ties between Japan and Australia so Mitsui can contribute to the future of the relationship between Japan and Australia,” Katsu says.

With 25 Australian joint ventures in industries from minerals to oil and gas and rail, Mitsui’s relationship with Australia has only strengthened since its beginnings in the early 1900s.

“We are the second largest investor in the world for Australia, after the USA and the second largest trading company after China,” Katsu explains.

“I am very happy to see in the last 10 years our investment in Australia increase and diversify with a good mixture of resource and non-resource companies.”

As for Katsu himself, does he now call Australia home?

“I have only been in Australia for 18 months, but I am happy to be here and enjoying life,” he says.

“I went to the AFL Grand Final, the grand prix, the Australian Open and I’ve met Prime Minister Scott Morrison twice.

“I’m enjoying a lot of different opportunities and Mitsui’s 25 joint ventures are not the limit here in Australia, we have a large pipeline of projects to come in the future.”

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