Acquisitive Chinese agribusiness giant hires ex-Rabobank exec as Europe CEO

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Chinese agribusiness giant New Hope Group has hired former Rabobank executive Donar van den Berg as its Europe CEO, raising the prospect of further European expansion by the firm.

Van den Berg, a Dutch national, had a seven-year stint from 2003-2010 at Rabobank, the Dutch bank which specializes in agribusiness investments. In 2015, Van den Berg worked for over a year as an independent consultant in The Hague and Amsterdam.

Van den Berg’s Linkedin profile says his responsibilities at New Hope include business development and overseeing the group’s investments in Europe.

Van den Berg’s hire follows a series of moves overseas by New Hope and bold statements regarding future overseas M&A, in order to feed growing consumer demand in China.

“[New Hope] have ‘intentions’ with everything and that includes certainly seafood,” a source at a European aquatic feed company told Undercurrent News.

Global reach for resources

The source said New Hope may invest through the Beijing-based private equity fund Hosen Capital, which also has investment from Temasek, ADM and Mitsui, as well as JD Group, a Chinese internet giant. “I picture them investing in Europe directly, through this vehicle or by other means,” he said.

In February Evonik, a German chemicals and animal nutrition firm, also invested in the fund.

New Hope’s warchest for overseas M&A is reportedly CNY 10 billion ($1.46bn), according to a Bloomberg report in April of last year. In October 2016, New Hope CEO Liu Yonghao stated the company plans to invest AUD 1bn ($748.6 million) in Australia over the next three years, according to a report in The Australian.

Meanwhile, in December, Li Fangyi — president of New Hope Liuhe, the firm’s market-listed arm — told Fish First, a Chinese trade publication, the firm has spent three years looking into buying shrimp aquaculture companies in Southeast Asia.

Furthermore, early last year, New Hope Liuhe was among firms touted as potentially interested parties in Pacific Andes’ Peruvian anchovy business for fishmeal and fish oil. Although the sale process collapsed last summer, it could be resumed in July.

Meanwhile, international deals and partnerships already in place include a strategic cooperation agreement with Cooperl Arc Atlantique, a leading hog processing enterprise in France, signed in 2015. Europe is the biggest origin of pigmeat exports to China – and China is the world’s largest importer.

And in 2015, New Hope Liuhe also acquired a 20% stake in Lansing Trade Group, a leading US feed and raw materials trading company, for CNY 800m.

Of his firm’s pursuit of shrimp production assets overseas, Li said the overarching strategy is, “simply put, to produce abroad and sell domestically”.

Earlier this year, Rabobank forecast China — the world’s biggest seafood producer, consumer and exporter — will become a net importer of seafood.

New Hope was established by Liu Yonghao in 1982. According to its website, New Hope engages in everything from feed production to agriculture technology, food processing, facility building and financial services.

In 2015 revenues at the group were nearly CNY 80bn, making it one of China’s largest private companies. Most of its investments in agribusiness abroad are through New Hope Liuhe.

Listed on the Shenzhen stock exchange, Liuhe reported foreign revenues of CNY 5.09bn in 2016. This amounted to a 17.3% increase compared with 2015.

By Louis Harkell

UnderCurrentNews

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