Qatar eyes Australia for grain, wool exports

Gulf state's sovereign wealth fund nears completion of $486m farm investment plan
Wheatfields, grains generic, farmland
By Bloomberg
Fri 01 Jun 2012 11:17 AM

Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund,
with an estimated $100bn in assets, expects to start exports of
grains and wool from Australia as it nears completion of a A$500m
($486m) farm investment plan.

Hassad Food
Co, the agricultural investment arm of the Qatar Investment Authority,
is shifting its focus to commercial production from food security and is
unlikely to buy new properties when it reaches its purchase goal within
a year, said Tom McKeon, chief executive officer of Hassad Australia.

“We’re
approaching completion of our business plan; once we get there, our
prime focus will be on developing the assets we have,” McKeon said in an
telephone interview from Sydney. “It doesn’t make sense for
the Qatari government to concentrate too large an investment on
Australia.”

Hassad may
invest 500 million euros ($618m) around the world this year, the
company’s Chairman Nasser al-Hajri told Bloomberg News earlier last
month. The Australian operation’s most recent purchases include a 40,000
hectare property in Telopea Downs in Victoria state,
and 31,500 hectares of farmland in three locations in Western Australia
this year, to boost supplies of sheep, wheat and barley, McKeon said.

Wheat
inventories in Australia, the world’s second-biggest shipper, will
probably hold above average this year even as handlers seek to maximize
exports following a record harvest, Emerald Group Australia Pty said
last month. Low sheep stock levels in Australia, the world’s biggest
exporter of wool, will support the market, Rabobank International said
in April.

Qatar, which
imports 90 percent of its food, invested $2bn last year, Hussain
al-Abdulla, a board member at the Qatar Investment Authority, said in
April. The company started wheat and animal feed production in Sudan in
2009, and announced plans to buy Turkish farmland last year.

While Hassad
plans to expand globally by acquiring agricultural companies -
particularly in north Africa, the Americas, Europe and south-east Asia
- it has been focused on land acquisitions in Australia, McKeon said.

“The way the
real estate market is set up in Australia, there’s been no need to buy a
company to buy the land,” McKeon said. “Most of the properties we’ve
purchased have been from willing sellers, and a lot have been on the
market already.”

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