Kuwait firm eyes farmland in Southeast Asia

Reuters | 10.07.09

  • Kuwait China eyes farmland in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos
  • Acting as "ambassador" for Kuwait's agricultural policy
  • Deals could take 2-3 years to complete

By John Irish and Martina Fuchs

DUBAI, Oct 7 (Reuters) - A Kuwaiti investment firm, affiliated to the Gulf state's sovereign wealth fund, has approached governments in Southeast Asian countries to invest in underdeveloped farmland, its chief financial officer said.

Kuwait China Investment Co's (KCIC), an asset management firm, had a long-term strategy to invest in the agricultural sector, but no deals were imminent, Faisal Nawaz told Reuters.

"There is a lot of farmland in Far East Asia that is either undeveloped or underdeveloped," Nawaz said in an interview late on Tuesday.

"Our proposition to the governments is that we can help them develop the infrastructure and develop the farmland and we will then take a share of the produce."

Kuwait has said it is interested in investing in agriculture and farmland in both Asia and Africa as it looks to diversify food sources.

The world's fourth-largest oil exporter has been looking at investing in the Far East to help diversify its revenue away from heavy reliance on oil exports.

Nawaz said KCIC saw itself as an "ambassador" for Kuwait to seek out opportunities in the agricultural sector, although deals could still take as much as three years to conclude.

KCIC had approached governments in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, Nawaz said.

"Vietnam will always be there," he said. "They are very open to suggestions, willing to work with us ... Cambodia, Laos are two other countries we have approached and we are seeing a good reaction."

The firm's managing director said in July it was looking to invest in Asian agribusiness and farming projects producing crops such as rice, wheat and corn for purely commercial reasons.

"It's a model which is difficult to put a timeline on because we are in discussions with multiple governments and unless we can find the right proposition ... whether it takes two years or three is difficult to pin down," Nawaz said.

The desert state, which imports most of its food, sent a delegation headed by the prime minister and included the head of Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), visited eight Asian countries last year to boost trade ties and discuss food imports.

KCIC, which was established in 2005 with a capital of 80 million dinars ($278.7 million), is also looking at investments in the energy sector and equities and wants to buy stakes in firms in the financial and real estate sectors.

The KIA owns a 15 percent stake in KCIC. Other investors include Kuwait's family-owned conglomerate Al-Ghanim Industries.

Gulf Arab oil exporters have amassed enormous surpluses from an oil price rally that started in 2002 and enabled them to snap up foreign assets to diversify their risk.

In September, Kuwait said it hoped to secure China's approval in the first quarter of 2010 to build a $9 billion refinery and said in May it was looking to raise its stake in the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC).

(Editing by Inal Ersan)

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