As John Howard works on his deputy sheriff role for Australia in Asia,
the $1.9 billion National Foods takeover by Philippines giant San
Miguel once again highlights Australia’s absolutely pathetic record on
the global corporate stage.

Jeff
Kennett used to dream about Australian companies becoming “the food
bowl for Asia”, but the following deals over the past ten years have
made that vision look a little obsolete:

  • Entrepreneurs such as John Elliott, Alan Bond and John
    Spalvins bought and then lost many great Australian food and drink
    companies
  • Pacific Dunlop picked up much of the Adsteam food empire and then dumped the lot to Nestlé and Simplot in 1995
  • New Zealander Graeme Hart seized control of Burns Philp
    and then used the ingredients company to take over Goodman Fielder last
    year
  • Italian giant Parmalat took out Queensland-based dairy company Pauls
  • San Miguel bought James Boag breweries and later took a 50% stake in Doug Shears’ Berri juice empire last year
  • Atlanta-controlled Coca Cola Amatil took over SPC-Ardmona
  • National Foods mopped up King Island Cheese company and then was itself taken over by Philippines giant San Miguel

Sam Miguel has now ploughed about $2.5 billion into Australia over the
past three years building its portfolio to include brands such as James
Boags, Berri and now Pura and King Island Cheese. This makes it one of
the biggest Asian players in Australia, right up there with the likes
of Toyota which has about $2 billion in Australia assets that generates
almost $8 billion a year in annual revenue.

The
other giants from the region include Japanese trading house Mitsui
which has billions invested in the likes of coal mines, the meat
industry and the North West Shelf. It’s Australian website talks about $1.4 billion in revenue in 2004 and “trading transactions” worth $5.66 billion.

The
single biggest Asian investor in Australia is without doubt the
Singapore Government which controls Optus, almost $5 billion worth of
Victorian power assets, property developer Australand, hotels such as
the old ANA in Sydney and the Park Hyatt in Melbourne, plus a large
stake in our largest private hospital company, Affinity Health, just to
name a few.

Next cab off the rank is almost certainly interests
associated with Hong Kong-based mogul Li Ka-Shing who features
prominently on our great power industry sell-off list
having been associated with almost $9 billion worth of acquisitions
ranging from the $3.5 billion spent buying the South Australian
distribution system, to the purchases of Citipower and Powercor in
Victoria.

However, any profits from these deals have been lost
on the billions invested in Hutchison’s disastrous Australian foray and
the failure to build a 3G network that captured a large slice of the
Australian mobile market.

While Japanese, Chinese, Singaporean and now Philippine interests are
huge investors in Australia, it’s hard to find a single Australian
company that has such vast investments in Asian countries.

Peter Fray

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