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Australia mulls blocking China Mengniu’s dairy firm purchase

20 August 2020

Australia’s government may block China Mengniu Dairy’s purchase of Australian milk brands as diplomatic spat lingers.

According to reporting in Reuters and the Australian Financial Review, sources familiar with the matter blamed the potential block on “diplomatic issues”.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has gone against the advice of the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) which was in favour of approving the A$600 million ($430.98 million) deal, the newspaper said, without identifying its sources.

That would mark the first government veto since Australia in July announced its biggest shake-up of foreign investment law in almost half a century. That gave the treasurer last-resort power to vary or impose conditions on deals even after FIRB approval, or force divestment in the event of a national security risk.

The revision came partly in response to fear that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic would make buying strategic assets easier for cashed-up foreigners.

The law does not mention any specific country of origin. China Mengniu's approach, however, came against a backdrop of increasing Sino-Australia tension after Canberra called for an international inquiry into the origins of the novel coronavirus, which was first reported in China at the end of last year.

China Mengniu offered to buy Lion Dairy & Drinks Pty Ltd from Japan's Kirin Holdings Co Ltd in November, just 10 days after receiving the competition regulator's approval to buy infant formula maker Bellamy's for A$1.43 billion. It gained antitrust approval for the Lion deal in February.

"The government does not comment on the details of foreign investment screening arrangements as they apply, or could apply, to particular cases," Frydenberg said in an emailed response to Reuters' questions about the report.

A spokesman for Kirin said, "We have heard nothing is decided, so we cannot comment based on speculation."

A spokeswoman for China Mengniu did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
China Mengniu's Hong Kong-listed shares were down 3.1 percent in a broader market that was down 2.1 percent. Kirin shares were down 0.4 percent in Tokyo versus a 1 percent fall in the benchmark index.

($1 = 1.3922 Australian dollars)

Read the full story in Reuters

Source: Reuters


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