Belarus in talks with China, India to sell stake in potash firm

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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 per cent 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 privatise 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 privatised $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 aBelaruskali 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 privatisation but questioned its valuation at $30 billion by the Belarus government.

Some reports said Belarus is in talks with five companies for the sale of Belaruskali. President Lukashenko said in a recent interview that talks were under way with companies from Europe and Arab countries as well.

According to him, negotiations are on since spring with both state-owned and privately-held companies supported by states. “We take a cautious approach here. We need full guarantees. If a private owner is willing to buy, he is welcome. But we want him to prove he has real money. But when a company has a backing of the government, this means rock solid guarantees,” he said in the interview. He also added that Russian companies also showed interest in Belaruskali.

In the same breathe, the president said Belarus was not in a hurry to sell Belaruskali. “This is a joint-stock company. We sell but not cheaper. This is a very profitable enterprise. They pay taxes, good dividends to the budget,” he said.

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