Chinese interest in buying Australian-based CSR’s sugar and renewable energy assets – including a majority stake in the operation that owns the Chelsea brand and the Auckland refinery in NZ – is being seen as the start of an expansion plan.

CSR owns 75 percent of The New Zealand Sugar Co, which owns the Chelsea brand, and the waterfront refinery on Auckland’s North Shore.

The other 25 percent of NZ Sugar is owned by Australian cane growing group Mackay Sugar.

Last week, Chinese food and retail group Bright Food announced its interest in buying the CSR sugar cane energy assets, which it valued at $NZ1.87 billion, but the group said it did not possess all information for a final valuation.

Bright said it had offered to hold talks with CSR to develop a proposal, but also said its expression of interest in CSR should not be considered an offer and it carried no obligations.

A story in the Sydney Morning Herald this week said the move by Bright underscored China’s insatiable appetite for raw commodities. It had put the debate over China buying Australian assets into sharp focus and threw plans to demerge CSR’s sugar and renewable energy units from its building products businesses into greater flux, the newspaper said.

Observers saw the move as a precursor to the next wave of Chinese investment in Australian assets.

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