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Business

Australia thwarts sale of its largest cattle farm to China

The Australian government has blocked the sale of S. Kidman & Co. to a Chinese-led consortium citing national interests. It was the second try by Chinese buyers to acquire the ranch, which is twice the size of Belgium.

Chinese-owned Dakang Australia Holding had offered about A$370 million ($283 million, 248 million euros) to buy the 101,000 square-kilometer ranch owned by S. Kidman & Co., but Treasurer Scott Morrison told reporters on Friday that the proposal was "contrary to the national interest."

Generally, the Australian government would welcome foreign investment, Morrison said, adding: "We must always ensure it is on our own terms. There are not too many jurisdictions anywhere in the world where foreign acquisition of large holdings would be permitted."

Kidman has attracted keen interest from Chinese firms wanting to secure the sprawling pastoral empire made up of 10 separate cattle stations. Twice the size of Belgium, the ranch comprises 2 percent of Australia's agricultural land. Its sale would have been the biggest property deal in Australian history.

In the consortium, Dakang partnered with ASX-listed Australian Rural Capital (ARC). Their takeover bid was backed by Kidman and involved Dakang acquiring 80 percent and ARC 20 percent, with the partners jointly overseeing the management of the business.

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Secret weapons and valuable pastures

Morrison had already rejected the sale of the same property in November to a different Chinese syndicate, citing concerns that part of it abutted a secret weapons-testing range. As a result, the Anna Creek station in South Australia, which is next to a rocket testing range, was separated out and no longer included in the deal.

The proposal came at a time of growing concerns in Australia about valuable agricultural and mineral assets passing into foreign hands. A large number of lawmakers from both the liberal and conservative parties were opposed to the Chinese bid.

Dakang Australia is majority-owned by Hunan Dakang Pasture Farming, whose major shareholder is Shanghai Pengxin Group. Dakang Australia said the purchase would increase production and expand international markets for Kidman's beef.

Founded in 1899, S. Kidman & Co. holds around 1.3 percent of Australia's total land area, and 2.5 percent of the nation's agricultural land. It is a key source of beef for export to Japan, the United States and Southeast Asia.

uhe/cjc (dpa, AFP)

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