May 4, 2011 / 8:34 PM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 1-Australia clears Cargill to buy AWB grain business

* Deal expected to be finalized in a few days

* Acquisition not yet to include Melbourne port terminal

CHICAGO, May 4 (Reuters) - U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill Inc [CARG.UL] said on Wednesday it had received clearance from the Australian government to buy AWB’s commodity business from Canadian firm Agrium Inc AGU.TO.

The Foreign Investment Review Board told Cargill the federal government had “no objections” to the deal, the Minneapolis-based company said in a statement.

Cargill will acquire the grain handling, storage and marketing arm of AWB, which markets and sells grain for some 40,000 Australian farmers in more than 50 countries.

“We will now proceed rapidly to conclude the transaction and begin the integration process to bring the two businesses together,” Cargill’s Australia managing director Ralph Selwood said.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission approved the acquisition in March.

“Now that we have gained regulatory approval from the ACCC and FIRB, the deal should be completed in a few days,” Cargill spokesman Mark Klein told Reuters.

Fertilizer maker and farm products retailer Agrium agreed in December 2010 to sell the commodity management business it acquired as part of its A$1.24 billion (US$1.33 billion) purchase of AWB in 2010.

Terms of Cargill’s purchase were not released and will be based on the closing date. Agrium estimated in December that as of Sept. 30, 2010, the deal would be valued at A$925 million, included debt of A$240 million assumed by Cargill.

Cargill said it intends to continue operating AWB wheat and barley pools over the coming years while there is demand for pool products. It will also use the AWB brand name in grain buying and grower activities.

Australia is expected to export about 14.5 million tonnes of wheat in the 2010/11 season, or about 12 percent of world exports and ranking the country third behind the United States and Canada.

The deal will not yet include AWB’s interest in Melbourne Port Terminal, as the acquisition is subject to third-party consents and waivers.

AWB was founded in 1939 as the Australian Wheat Board, a government-backed single-desk grain exporter for Australia’s wheat growers similar to the Canadian Wheat Board. In 1999, it became a private company owned by wheat farmers. In 2010, it was acquired by Agrium.

While AWB operates the traditional “pools” that collect farmers’ grain for sales, multiple exporters of Australian wheat were allowed under the Wheat Export Marketing Act of 2008. Exports are accredited and approved by the government.

As of January 2011, there are 26 grain firms now accredited for export of Australian wheat. (Reporting by Christine Stebbins; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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