Cargill Inc. has agreed to sell its interest in North Star BlueScope Steel for $720 million, exiting the steel production business.

The Minnetonka-based agribusiness giant announced Sunday it is unloading its 50 percent stake to its joint venture partner, BlueScope Steel, which will also assume $40 million in debt. BlueScope is Australia's largest steelmaker.

The joint venture since 1997 has operated a steel mini-mill in Delta, Ohio, producing 2 million steel coils annually, mainly for the automotive and construction industries. The Ohio plant is North America's most profitable steel mill, according to Bloomberg News.

BlueScope, exercising its right of first refusal, said it bought out Cargill after Cargill received an offer for its joint venture stake from an unnamed third party.

Cargill has been pleased with the performance of North Star BlueScope, but "we have chosen to sell our interest in the joint venture to redeploy capital elsewhere in Cargill's portfolio and are confident in the team's continued success under new ownership," Peter Hawthorne, Cargill's vice president of strategy and business development, said in a press statement.

Cargill said it will continue the global trading, processing and distribution of steel products, and it will remain active in trading iron ore, the main raw material for steel. The company's Singapore-based Metals Supply Chain business operates steel service centers in six U.S. states and is active in China's steel business.

Cargill sold off most of its steel production assets in 2004, when Gerdau Steel of Brazil acquired North Star Steel for $266 million. That deal covered four steel mini-mills, including North Star Steel's plant in St. Paul.

The BlueScope sale is the latest significant transaction for Cargill this year.

This summer, Cargill agreed to sell its U.S. pork business to JBS USA Pork for $1.45 billion and to buy EWOS, a Norway-based salmon feed maker, for $1.5 billion. Also, Cargill last month said it would unwind its Black River Asset Management subsidiary after Black River this summer announced it would shut down four of its hedge funds.