The Sino-Russian ties are deepening as China ramps up its investment into Russian agriculture. Chinese COFCO trading corporation is eyeing a 25% stake in Russian KSK grain terminal in Novorossiysk, Vedomoti daily and Reuters reported on July 14 citing the sources close to the deal.
DeloPorts controls the third largest grain terminal in the southern Chernomorsk region of Russia and confirmed negotiations have begun without disclosing the details.
Agriculture has been a key strategic sector for the Kremlin, which has poured money into developing the sector and seen grain production and exports soar as a result.
Grain is the new oil with Russia earning over $20bn a year from grain exports in recent years – the second biggest export product after raw materials and more than it makes from the export of arms. Russia has been the world’s largest grain exporter for the last few years and is on course to retain the title, although this year it is running neck and neck with Ukraine for the title.
The possible deal with COFCO adds to several other pointing to possible expansion of Chinese investment in Russian agro sector. KSK terminal handled 4.8mn tonnes on grain exports, 25% plus one share in the terminal is controlled by Cargill, which is reportedly not participating in the COFCO deal.
China has kept its agricultural market largely closed to imports as it tries to cover its own domestic needs, but as the middle class emerges demand is rising and Beijing is slowly opening up to more exports. Russia has been eyeing the Chinese market and sees exports of agricultural products to China – especially over the Far Eastern border to China’s north-western provinces – as a key market for development and potentially a major money-maker.
At the same time deals with China have moved down from the state-to-state energy deals and increasingly Chinese companies are taking equity stakes in companies in strategically important sectors outside of energy as the process of tying the two countries economies together is ongoing. These investments are not just about supplying China with inputs it needs, but are also financial investments for profit.
Previously in 2015-2016 COFCO acquired trading companies Noble Agri and Nidera that also operate in Russia. In 2018 season the Chinese corporation was 16th largest grain exporter from Russia.
"The deal would open attractive opportunities for COFCO to export large volumes of Russian grain to Middle East markets," sources told Reuters, adding that "Novorossiysk is particularly important for exports to Egypt," which is the largest buyer of Russian grain.
Recently Russian state-controlled bank VTB has been consolidating its grain asset, acquiring Russia's largest grain freight operator RusTransCom and one of the largest grain terminals NKHP (Novorossiyskiy Kombinat Hleboproduktov).
The bank previously said it would develop grain export infrastructure together with the state. RusTransCom previously said it was preparing to IPO, but later withdrew plans saying that it had received a better offer from VTB for a private placement.