SYDNEY - Australia's BHP Billiton named Chris Campbell as president of the firm's iron ore business on Monday, the second major management reshuffle among top miners in the country focused on soaring demand from China.
Campbell is charged with marketing iron ore supplies from BHP's share of the world's largest deposit at Pilbara, which has about 41,000 people and sprawls over half a million square kilometers, and is being developed with the No. 2 iron ore miner Rio Tinto.
Sales will be handled separately.
He will also run the company's Brazil Samancor partnership with Vale, the No. 1 iron ore producer.
Campbell's appointment follows Rio Tinto last week picking fluent Mandarin speaker Ian Bauert to head its China business at a time of tense talks with steel mills there, the biggest buyers of Australian iron ore.
Analysts view the latest management changes at BHP and Rio as positioning to deal with potential conflicts such as pricing.
Rio, which has a bigger share of production, relies more on traditional benchmarking once a year, while BHP favors a spot price.
BHP has made no secret it wants nothing to do with a benchmark contract system, while Rio has been silent on the idea of a change to spot, one mining analyst said.
Chinese customers view the joint production deal warily because it creates a supply giant and a plan to co-market Australian iron ore was scrapped in October to deflect criticism the merger was anti-competitive and would monopolize trade.
BHP and Rio are already pitted against steel mills in Asia, including China, in talks for April-March shipments that could lead to iron ore price hikes of 50 percent or more, according to analyst forecasts.
If the merger, which still requires clearance from regulators in the European Union and elsewhere, goes through, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto would mine more than 350 million tonnes a year, overtaking Vale, and handle a third of global seaborne trade in iron ore.
Total supplies from all miners in Australia's Pilbara should reach around 400 million tonnes this year.
Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief Sam Walsh has already been designated as chairman of a proposed merger of production operations.
Last June Rio Tinto Chief Executive Tom Albanese said senior management for the production joint venture would be determined jointly on the basis of best person for the job, with broadly equal participation from both sides.
Campbell headed the $6 billion integration of the former WMC Resources into BHP Billiton in 2006 and has been worked on the merged entity known as Western Australia Iron Ore venture with Rio Tinto since mid-2009, BHP said in a statement.