Kanematsu – supporting regional Australia

Kanematsu-Gosho Ltd. established its first office in Sydney in 1890. It remains the longest established trading house in Australia with a history of exporting Australian wool, tallow (and to a lesser extent, timber) spanning over 120 years.

Kanematsu’s global business now encompasses sectors including electronics and devices, foods and grains, steel, materials and plant, motor vehicles and aerospace.

Establishing the Pathology Institute at Sydney Hospital

In 1933, Kanematsu established one of Australia’s longest-running corporate social responsibility projects, the Kanematsu Memorial Institute of Pathology at Sydney Hospital.

Company founder Fusajiro Kanematsu donated A£25,000 (at the time about a quarter of the company’s paid-up capital) to establish the institute in recognition of the medical care and support given to early Japanese migrants by the Australian community.

The institute operated at Sydney Hospital from 1933 and throughout WWII until the early 1980s, when its facilities were demolished by NSW Health Services to make way for hospital upgrades and extensions.

Kanematsu’s close association with Australia’s medical research sector and the field of pathology still continues – the Kanematsu Fund donates an annual research scholarship to the Australian Royal Pathology Association. The 2017–18 recipient is undertaking research in haematology.

Nobel prize–winning connections

During its tenure, the Kanematsu Memorial Institute of Pathology played a role in the careers of two Nobel prize winners for medicine – Sir John Eccles in 1963 and Sir Bernard Katz in 1970. Eccles was the Director of the Kanematsu Institute from 1937–45 and a Melbourne University graduate in Medicine.

In Ronald Winton’s book, Kanematsu’s great gift: the story of the Kanematsu Memorial Institute at Sydney Hospital, Eccles stated:

‘Looking back on those days [at the Kanematsu Memorial Institute] one can see the irony of the situation because it was our work with the blocking agents of nerve-muscle transmission and the use of anticholinesterases for unblocking, which at least formed an important scientific base for the modern use of muscle relaxants in anaesthesia[1].’

Grain and legume exports from Kangaroo Island

Kanematsu has historical ties to agribusiness in Kangaroo Island, South Australia, which continue to this day. The company exports legumes and grain grown on the island to buyers in Japan and around the world who appreciate its quality.

It also facilitates other Japanese exporters to buy Australian produce. For example, in 2004 Kanematsu acted as the bridge between a sole Japanese importer and Kangaroo Island producers. The managing director of the Japanese oil company was so impressed with the quality of the grain, he was prepared to pay the higher freight costs from Kangaroo Island to Adelaide.

To cope with increasing export volumes of grain as well as legumes, Kanematsu needed additional handling facilities on Kangaroo Island, and grain-cleaning and packing-plant facilities near Port Adelaide. In 2012, it provided an initial capital injection for upgrades to existing silos and purchase of additional ones. This capital injecting formed the company’s shareholding in Kangaroo Island Pure Grain (KIPG), which enabled KIPG to handle new product exports such as canola seed to Japan.

‘I believe the partnership between KIPG and Kanematsu Australia has been a win-win situation for both parties,’ says Ichiro Nakane, Managing Director of Kanematsu.

‘KIPG has been able to access capital and our global network, while Kanematsu has been able to secure quality product and a new business.’

The company also works with KIPG to develop high-quality crops of broad beans for the Japanese market. In 2014, Kanematsu and KIPG agreed to export up to 10,000 tonnes of broad beans a year. Kanematsu now sells those broad beans not just to Japan but also to buyers in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan.

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[1]  Ronald Winton, Kanematsu’s great gift: the story of the Kanematsu Memorial Institute at Sydney Hospital, North Parramatta, NSW, Kanematsu Fund, 1997.