China Threatens Russia Bid for Potash Control


"China may thwart Russian efforts to control half the potash market as Belarus sells its assets to stave off a deepening economic crisis."

Bloomberg, Henry Meyer and Ilya Khrennikov

China may thwart Russian efforts to control almost half the potash market as Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko seeks to sell part of fertilizer producer Belaruskali to stave off a deepening economic crisis.

OAO Uralkali expressed interest last month in buying a stake in Belaruskali in a deal that would give the Russian company 45% of global potash production as food shortages boost demand for the potassium compound. Lukashenko, who values Belaruskali at $30B, may opt to sell a smaller holding to a Chinese company.

"The Russians realize that Lukashenko is short of cash and this is a fantastic opportunity," said Gevorgyan, a London- based analyst who focuses on the former Soviet Union. "But he's realizing that he's finding himself increasingly in Moscow's pocket, so if he could negotiate a deal and convince the Chinese to take a stake, it would be much better for him."

The potential fight for Belaruskali, which produces 15% of the world's potash, pits Russia's drive to boost its influence in the former Soviet Union against China's strategy of investing to secure raw materials it needs for a burgeoning economy.

"The situation reflects both China's increased confidence as a global player in the post-crisis world, and its fragility as an importer of natural resources," said James Beadle, an investment adviser at Societe Generale.

Chinese potash prices rose to $470 a metric ton last month from $115 in 2001, peaking at $635 in April 2008 amid concern about global food shortages.

Russia, on the other hand, "is using its economic strength to gain leverage across the former Soviet Union," said Roland Nash, chief investment strategist at Verno Capital, a Moscow hedge fund. "If you can go and buy key assets in a country, then you have a lot of influence over it."

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