October 18, 2010 / 11:52 AM / 9 years ago

Morocco's OCP eyes foreign acquisitions

MARRAKESH, Morocco (Reuters) - Morocco’s Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP), the world’s biggest phosphates exporter, is eyeing possible acquisitions of fertilizer producers abroad, its chief executive told Reuters.

The company also expects turnover this year to exceed $3 billion, or about double the figure for last year, and is preparing to raise capital through bond issues on the local and international markets, said Chief Executive Mostafa Terrab.

He said the company was looking carefully at merger and acquisition moves in the international fertilizer industry that could affect companies with which OCP has relationships, and may step in with offers of its own. He would not identify the companies.

“It could make sense to acquire fertilizer capacities ... outside Morocco,” he said late on Sunday on the sidelines of the World Policy Conference in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh. “We are taking a very close look at it.”

OCP, which supplies markets in India, China, Australia, Europe and United States, controls 45 percent of the world’s lime phosphate world market and more than 30 percent of global phosphate exports.

He said company turnover for this year would be up to “well over the $3 billion mark” after demand for fertilizer — for which phosphates are primarily used — recovered from a slump last year caused by the global financial crisis.

OCP has embarked on a 6.3 billion euro ($8.81 billion) investment program to roughly double its production capacity by 2020.

The chief executive said OCP’s “small” planned bond issues were designed to prepare debt markets for possible bigger issues later, but he said the timing would depend on market conditions.

FOREIGN INVESTORS

Terrab also said OCP was “fairly close” to bringing foreign investors into fertilizer production at the firm’s Jorf Lasfar export hub.

OCP has faced criticism from some foreign civil society groups over it operations in Western Sahara, an area about the size of Britain that was annexed by Morocco in 1975 and is the subject of Africa’s longest-running territorial conflict.

Critics say the firm should not be exploiting Western Sahara’s mineral resources until the sovereignty issue is settled. Terrab rejected that, saying his firm was not in Western Sahara to pursue profits.

Company officials say the territory has less than 2 percent of Morocco’s phosphate reserves, and that between 1976 and 2008 the firm made net losses there of 4.716 billion Moroccan dirhams, or about $580 million at the current exchange rate.

“If we stopped that operation, we could probably stop our losses at the same time but you would have 1700 families that would lose their livelihood,” Terrab said. “So we see it as the opposite, we see it as our moral duty to be there.”

Additional reporting by Lamine Ghanmi; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by David Cowell

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