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Malaysians take over PNG palm oil giant

Pacific plantation yields record surge

London Stock Exchange listed company and Papua New Guinea’s largest agribusiness, New Britain Palm Oil Limited (NPOL) will have a new owner. After two months of intense bidding exercise, Malaysian conglomerate Sime Darby Bhd was selected as the preferred bidder. It will take over the shares of current owner Kulim Malaysia. NBPOL owns 77,000ha of oil palm plantations in PNG and the Solomon Islands, 12 palm oil mills, and one refinery each in PNG and Liverpool in the United Kingdom.

It is also the largest domestic sugar and beef producer in PNG, with 7,700ha of sugar cane plantations and 9,200ha of grazing pastures. It owns a seed production and palm breeding facility. Kulim announced two months ago it was seeking buyers for its 48.9% stake in NBPOL. The move follows Kulim’s unsuccessful bid to increase its stake in NBPOL last year. In August 2013, the PNG Securities Commission ruled it was ‘not in the national interest’ for it to increase its stake in NBPOL to 68.9%. In an announcement in August, Sime said that it had been selected as the preferred party to negotiate a sale of Kulim (M) Bhd’s equity interest in NBPOL that is listed in London.

“Kulim has now entered into exclusive discussions with Sime Darby to finalise the terms of the transaction,” Sime Darby said. In a separate announcement, Kulim said that it sent a letter to NBPOL and the relevant government authorities in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to inform them of its intention to sell its entire equity stake in NBPOL to Sime Darby. Kulim said the discussions would see the terms of the transaction being finalised for a period of 60 days or longer that would be mutually agreed upon.

The race for the sale of NBPOL started in May this year with Felda Global Ventures Bhd (FGV) first expressing interest to acquire the stake from Kulim. Following a competitive bidding process, seven others entered the fray for NBPOL. It included two plantation groups from Indonesia and Singapore’s Wilmar International Ltd and three plantation giants from Malaysia joining FGV. The three Malaysian companies were Sime, IOI Bhd and KLK Bhd. Kulim wanted to dispose of the stake because although it is the single largest shareholder in NBPOL with 48.97%, it is unable to exert management control over the plantation group that is a source of significant employment in PNG.

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