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 Nestle, Cargill also keen on Unilever refinery

20 November 2001 (Business Times) - THE proposed acquisition of UnileverPlc NV’s palm oil refinery in Rotterdam, Netherlands, by Golden HopePlantations Bhd may not be as straight-forward a deal as hoped, sourcessay.This is because Unilever has received several new bids for the plant frommultinational companies, among them Swiss-based food giant Nestle SA andmultinational commodity trader Cargill.“With the latest development, negotiations may take a little longer thanexpected,” a source told Business Times in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.It has been reported that Golden Hope was expected to conclude anagreement this week to buy the plant from the British-Dutch food andconsumer products giant.The refinery, Unimills, employs 210 workers and is located at Zwijndrechtin the vicinity of the world’s fourth biggest port, Rotterdam.Its price tag is not immediately known but industry observers said asimilar refinery in Malaysia would cost between RM200 million and RM300million to develop, and an oleochemical facility RM400 million to RM500million.“Golden Hope looks to be still having the upper hand in the negotiationsthough... being a palm oil producer. Unilever is stressing the long-termviability of the refinery,” the source said.“Unilever would prefer to sell to a raw producer of palm oil to ensurethat the plant can continue to operate even when times are bad.”As such, the sale price is not quite an issue with Unilever.“In addition, Golden Hope and Unilever have long had a close workingrelationship, including in marketing and brand promotion of Unilever’s 400or so palm oil and palm kernel-based household products,” he said.Unilever itself has palm oil operations in Malaysia, undertaken throughPamol Plantations Sdn Bhd which has a total of 24,291ha under oil palmcultivation in Johor, Sabah and Sarawak.It is understood that Golden Hope group chief executive officer, DatukAbdul Wahab Maskan, and the company’s top executives returned to theNetherlands yesterday to resume talks, after only coming back to Malaysiaon Sunday.Meanwhile, Unilever press officer Richard Van Der Eijk said in an e-mailto Business Times that the refinery is being hived off because therefinery has built up a substantial enough business with third parties tomake it a stand-alone operation.“The disposal is also in line with Unilever’s overall growth strategy andfurther development of its 400 leading brands,” he said.Van der Eijk refused to give an indication of the price being negotiatedbut said the refinery has capacity to process about 450,000 tonnes of palmkernel, coconut, soyabean, rapeseed and sunflower oil.He also dismissed suggestions that Unilever is selling the refinerybecause the group is in the red.“We have sales of up to 130 million euros (1 euro = RM3.41) from ourproducts sold in the central and northwesten parts of Europe alone,” hesaid.An analyst said while Golden Hope’s proposed investment may not showimmediate returns, it represents a good long-term venture, which Malaysiancompanies need to pursue to further promote the country’s palm oil sector.“If Malaysia is to make its mark overseas as a palm oil producer, localcompanies must make such investments,” he said.In any case, such projects are not new to Malaysia. Golden Hope is also inthe midst of setting up palm oil operations in Vietnam and China.And United Plantations Bhd has palm oil operations in Mexico, the US andBritain, while Sime Darby Bhd owns a refinery in Egypt and the Kwok Grouphas one in China, the analyst said.Nestle is the world’s biggest food group. It employs 224,541 workers andoperates 479 factories worldwide. Sales totalled 81.4 billion Swiss francs(1 Sfr = RM2.32) last year.In Malaysia, Nestle Malaysia Bhd distributes 640 brands of food products.In terms of turnover and profitability, it is the fourth largest Nestlesubsidiary in Asia Pacific, after Japan, Australia and the Philippines.Cargill is an international trader, processor and distributor ofagricultural, food, financial and industrial products and services.It has operations in 57 countries and a 90,000-strong workforce.

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