BHP Group Ltd. BHPLF is open to partnering with Nutrien Ltd. NTR-T, and isn’t ruling out making another takeover attempt of the Canadian fertilizer giant, a senior executive with the Australian miner told The Globe and Mail.
“We’re happy to partner,” Rag Udd, president minerals Americas with Melbourne-based BHP, said in an interview.
“If you take a look at the majority of our businesses, there’s some form of partnership there with other companies.”
When asked whether a partnership with Nutrien meant a joint venture, a takeover of the company, or both, Mr. Udd replied, “There’s a myriad of options that could be looked at.”
In 2010, the Canadian government, then run by Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, rejected BHP’s US$40-billion proposed takeover of Nutrien’s predecessor company, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, as not being of net benefit to Canadians.
However, since then, the domestic investment climate has changed significantly, with Canada welcoming a slew of inbound investment from Australian miners, as it embraces “friendshoring,” or trading more with like-minded nations. Furthermore, Canada is increasingly clamping down on investment from jurisdictions deemed hostile to Canada’s interests, including China.
Over the past five years, BHP has improved its public image in Canada immensely, invested heavily, winning plaudits from affected First Nations communities, as well as financial aid from the federal government for a new potash mine in Saskatchewan.
In 2021, The Globe reported that Saskatoon-based Nutrien spent months exploring a joint venture with BHP on its Jansen potash project in Saskatchewan. Jansen was to be BHP’s first foray into the commodity, while Nutrien had decades of experience in running potash mines.
Even though Nutrien’s then-chief executive officer, Chuck Magro, had championed doing a joint venture with BHP, talks between the two miners fizzled, and the Australian miner decided to forge ahead alone on the $7.5-billion construction.
Now two years later, with 16 per cent of Jansen’s construction complete, the rationale for a partnership with Nutrien appears even stronger.
Enthusiasm for potash reached a fever pitch last year, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine knocked out a significant chunk of global supply. Russia is the world’s second-largest producer of potash after Canada.
But the potash market has cooled significantly since then, with Russia finding workarounds to export its potash, and farmers cutting back on consumption owing to the high prices. Nutrien last month said it is pulling back slightly on a planned multiyear expansion in potash production in Saskatchewan, where it has six mines. With BHP set to bring the equivalent of 22 per cent of Nutrien’s annual potash production to market by the end of 2026, the focus has shifted to a possible oversupply of the commodity, providing added incentive for the two companies to work together, as opposed to in a vacuum.
When asked about the prospect of BHP and Nutrien joining forces, Richard Reavey, director of communications with Nutrien, wrote in an e-mail to The Globe that the company doesn’t comment on speculation.
“We are focused on meeting the world’s need for potash and other crop inputs during this time of concern about global food security,” he added.
As part of BHP’s renewed interest in Canada, the company remains open to getting involved again in the Ring of Fire.
Last year, BHP lost out to Australian competitor Wyloo Metals Pty Ltd. in a takeover battle for Noront Resources Ltd., which operates the most promising mineral assets in Ontario’s Ring of Fire region in the province’s far north.
Mr. Udd said BHP is “very receptive” to opportunities around nickel, copper and potash, including the Ring of Fire.
In 2021, BHP moved its global nickel and copper exploration office to Canada.
BHP, like other global mining giants, is attempting to move away from dirty commodities like coal and iron ore to metals such as copper and nickel that have a cleaner environment, social and governance sheen owing to their use in cleaner energy applications. Those metals also command higher premiums in the marketplace.