Rio Tinto chief executive Sam Walsh may not have mentioned Fortescue Metals Group or Glencore by name.
But the rival mining companies were clearly on his mind as he delivered the speech at the Melbourne Mining Club’s annual gathering in London on Wednesday.
Addressing a 560-strong crowd packed into a marquee next to Lord’s Cricket Ground, Mr Walsh said 2015 had been characterised by “a lot of commentary, free expert advice, and even some sledging”.
Mr Walsh, who has held the top job at Rio since January 2013, said it was in Australia’s national interest to stick to the principles of open markets at a “challenging” time for many commodities, including iron ore, coal and aluminium.
“Some have called it a crisis of confidence and talked themselves and others into a gloom,” he said.
“It’s been suggested to me there’s a direct correlation between your position on the cost curve and the volume of your opinion. The higher on the curve, the louder you get.”
The Pilbara’s two biggest and cheapest producers of iron ore, Rio and BHP Billiton, have been accused in the past six months by Fortescue and Glencore of deliberately distorting the market.
By pushing ahead with expansion plans at time when Chinese demand for the key steel-making ingredient is weakening, they have been accused of attempting to put smaller rivals out of business.
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