China may probe BHP's bid for Potash: report

Wed Sep 1, 2010 2:39pm EDT
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Michael Wei and Lucy Hornby

BEIJING (Reuters) - China may launch an antimonopoly probe into BHP Billiton's $39 billion bid for Canada's Potash Corp, the China Business News said on Wednesday, citing a source familiar with the matter.

China will also review the merger of two Russian potash firms -- Uralkali and Silvinit -- given the major impact the two deals would have on China, the paper cited the unnamed source as saying.

The report was another indicator that China, the world's biggest importer of fertilizer, is wary of further concentration in the market, following BHP Billiton's launch of a hostile bid for Potash Corp last month.

But it was unclear what steps, if any, Chinese regulators could take in opposition to the bid.

BHP declined to comment on the newspaper report, and China's Ministry of Commerce was not immediately available to comment.

BHP has said the deal only needs approvals from regulators in Canada and the United States, where Potash Corp sells around half its production.

China buys around 7 percent of the output of Potash Corp, which controls around one-fifth of world production of the key crop nutrient. Potash demand in the country has been growing by around 5-8 percent a year, faster than other fertilizers.

China consumes about a third of Russia's potash output, so it was not surprising that Beijing was closely following the potential of Uralkali and Silvinit teaming up to create the world's second-biggest group in the sector after Potash Corp.   Continued...

<p>PotashCorp mill general superintendent Trevor Berg holds a handful of chicklet potash at a potash holding centre at the Cory mine facilities near Saskatoon, August 19, 2010. REUTERS/David Stobbe</p>