COFCO merger to help China import more grains

by Laura Lloyd
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BEIJING — COFCO Corp., the largest grain, oil and foodstuff company in China, has signed an agreement to purchase 51% of Nidera, a global commodity trader and agribusiness company headquartered in The Netherlands, for an undisclosed sum.

The strategic partnership, which may lead to a joint venture in sugar, soybeans and wheat with Hong Kong-based Noble Group, a leading commodities trader, is viewed as putting China’s top grains importer in direct competition with international agricultural trading houses such as Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus Commodities and Glencore Xstrata.

The COFCO-Nidera merger would allow the Chinese company to build its presence in South America and Central Europe, as well as other locations around the world, including possibly the United States. The chief executive officer of Nidera, Ton van der Laan, said the joint venture would increase opportunities for his company in fast-growing Asian markets.

The Financial Times said March 6 that COFCO’s five-year plan envisions investments of $10 billion in overseas mergers and acquisitions by 2015. COFCO also plans to increase its soybean crushing and corn grinding capacity to 77 million tonnes a year by 2015 from about 50 million tonnes. Sugar will be a special focus after grains, building on previous acquisitions made by COFCO in that industry.

“Investing in Nidera is in line with COFCO’s strategy to become a global player in the agricultural industry with a fully integrated value chain and it represents a significant step toward COFCO’s global expansion,” said Frank Ying, chairman of COFCO. COFCO has 120,000 employees and an extensive business portfolio covering agriculture commodity trading and processing and branded consumer foods as well as a presence in other industries.

COFCO and Nidera will be working in the coming months to obtain regulatory approvals to close the transaction. COFCO indicated two years ago that it had $10 billion set aside for foreign mergers and acquisitions, of which the Nidera deal is the first major one to be announced.

The decision by COFCO to seek an international partner is seen as an effort to bolster its ability to import feed grains. As demand for richer foods builds in China as incomes grow, the country has faced limits in arable land and clean water and has had to look increasingly abroad to meet its food needs.
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