Belarus in talks with China, India, others on potash giant

MINSK Tue Nov 27, 2012 8:15am EST

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MINSK (Reuters) - Belarus is in talks with companies from China, India, Europe and the Arab world on selling a minority stake in potash giant Belaruskali but will not drop its $30-32 billion valuation, President Alexander Lukashenko said.

Russia's Uralkali has long coveted a controlling stake in Belaruskali, which accounts for 15 percent of the world potash market, but Moscow has urged Lukashenko to reconsider the price tag.

He made clear in an interview with Reuters that there would be no reduction in price and that Belarus intended to drive the hardest of bargains in any sale.

"There is much talk about Belaruskali. We are ready to privatize the company, but you have to pay. We have calculated its cost - $30-$32 billion," he said.

"There are five companies in talks now. There are talks with the Chinese, Indians, someone from the Arab world and two Europeans," he said, adding that Uralkali remained a player.

There had been progress in talks, he said, though he declined to identify the companies concerned.

Selling a piece of Belaruskali, which has major clients in China, India and Brazil and is the jewel in the crown of Belarussian industry, came to the fore last year when the former Soviet republic was in the grip of a balance-of-payments crisis.

A Moscow-led regional fund bailed out Belarus on condition that it privatized $2.5 billion a year in state assets.

Minsk met the 2011 quota by selling its gas pipeline network to Russia's Gazprom but appeared to back off talk of a Belaruskali sale.

In October, Lukashenko said that he had turned down a bribe of $5 billion which had been offered to him by unnamed oligarchs to purchase Belaruskali at a third of the price.

On a visit to Minsk in July, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev pushed for Belaruskali's privatization but questioned its valuation at $30 billion by the Belarus government.

(Writing by Richard Balmforth; editing by Douglas Busvine and Jason Neely)

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