Billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest is poised to become a key figure in Australia’s bid to become a major cattle exporter to China after buying West Australian beef processor Harvey Beef in a deal worth more than $30 million.
Mr Forrest — who already owns three major cattle stations in the Pilbara — bought the business from Asian private equity fund Pacific Alliance Group.
The deal confirms speculation that Mr Forrest believes in demand will grow for Australian beef in much the same way as he successfully predicted 10 years ago that his mining company Fortescue Metal Group would benefit from China’s rising demand for iron ore.
The largely untapped Chinese market is seen as the holy grail for the Australian beef industry.
It is understood that Mr Forrest has met senior Chinese government officials with the aim of relaxing Beijing’s quarantine laws for cattle.
Harvey Beef exports WA beef to about 30 countries and is the state’s only accredited exporter of beef to China.
The company also exports to Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, the Middle East and the US.
Mr Forrest’s private company, Minderoo, said today it would invest in upgrading Harvey Beef’s facilities in WA’s southwest to increase capacity in order to meet growing domestic and international demand for premium WA beef, both grass and grain-fed.
“I have always been a firm believer and an even stronger supporter of the Australian agricultural industry,” Mr Forrest said.
“Harvey Beef has been an iconic brand for almost a century and I am delighted to work with its team to ensure Harvey Beef makes a significant and growing contribution to the State’s economy; and Australia’s agricultural industry for the next century,” he said.
“Following detailed discussions with the Chinese leadership, we are determined to ensure that the Australian agricultural industry’s future in China is just as bright as our mining future.
“We hope this acquisition will send a strong message of confidence in the future of the industry,” he said. “Confidence to increase supply and make Australia the supplier of choice to meet Asia’s long-term food security requirements.”
The Australian revealed in January that Mr Forrest had become one of WA’s biggest individual landholders after acquiring two vast Pilbara cattle stations from the collapsed empire of former tycoon Ric Stowe for $4.5m.
The deal tripled the size of his pastoral land to 7300sq km — an area roughly six times the size of New York City.