Belarus ready to sell top potash firm: report
Cash-strapped Belarus is negotiating the sale of its most prized asset, the potash producer Belaruskali, under the terms of a loan agreed this month with Russia, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
Responsible for one-third of the world's potash fertiliser production, Belaruskali could be worth $20 billion, the report said, citing people familiar with the negotiations.
Potential buyers include investors from China and Russia, whose billionaire owner of the Uralkali producer has already held talks with the Belarussian firm, the Wall Street Journal said.
Officials at the ex-Soviet Union's largest potash producer and Belneftekhim, the state corporation that holds its shares, declined to comment.
Belarus has agreed to privatise $7.5 billion worth of state assets within three years under terms of a $3-billion bailout loan it received on Saturday from a group of ex-Soviet states led by Russia.
Moscow had refused to agree the package without the privatisation programme, which is aimed at reviving the country's Soviet-style economy and presents a chance for Russian investors to scoop up major Belarussian corporations.
President Alexander Lukashenko had resisted the sales but a 36 percent currency devaluation last month and a massive state hard currency shortage has forced the veteran leader to reach out for foreign help.
Minsk last week also sought assistance from the International Monetary Fund, which has no existing programme with the Belarus, a country in international isolation due to a post-election crackdown on democracy protesters.
On a visit to Belaruskali last month, Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich refused to rule out the company's sale, noting that he was "looking for way to improve its efficiency."
The importance of potash fertiliser has soared in recent years owing to mounting demand for food in the world, particularly China.
© 2011 AFP