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Australia foreign investment watchdog OKs $6.8 bln Asciano buy: Reuters

Australia’s foreign investment watchdog cleared the A$9.1 billion (US$6.8 billion) buyout of port and rail freight giant Asciano Ltd (AIO.AX), the company said on Wednesday, paving the way for the country’s biggest foreign takeover in half a decade.

The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) “has provided written notice that there are no objections” to the deal, which involves splitting Asciano among a host of buyers from Sydney, Canada, China and Kuwait, the company said in a statement.

The ruling was widely expected because the deal involves selling half the company’s port assets to an Australian company, Qube Holdings Ltd (QUB.AX), while the other half goes to Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management Inc (BAMa.TO).

The Australian government views ports as strategic assets, and has been under pressure to keep them in Australian hands since the 2015 sale of Port of Darwin sparked a political backlash and even a rebuke from U.S. government officials.

Asciano’s rail assets are, meanwhile, set to go to a China Investment Corp-led consortium as part of the deal. Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board is a member of that consortium.

Since the antitrust regulator, which had expressed concerns about the deal, waved it through last week, the green light from FIRB puts the takeover close to succeeding. The last two hurdles remaining are approval from Asciano’s shareholders and approval from the Supreme Court.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)

(This story has been edited by Kirk Falconer, editor of PE Hub Canada)

Photo of Brookfield Infrastructure CEO Sam Pollock (R) shaking hands with Asciano Ltd CEO John Mullen courtesy of Reuters/David Gray