Qatar eyes Australia for grain, wool exports

Gulf state's sovereign wealth fund nears completion of $486m farm investment plan

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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