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North Korean Govt, French and Malay firms seek rubber deals

North Korean Govt, French and Malay firms seek rubber deals

F OUR interested parties, including three companies and the North Korean government,

have expressed interest in investing in Cambodia's rubber industry, according to

several sources close to the negotiations.

The companies include a French company with roots in Cambodia's colonial period,

a Belgian company with rubber holdings in Africa and a joint venture between the

Malaysian state rubber management company and a French trading company.

Teng Lao, Director General of the Department of Rubber Plantations, declined to discuss

the proposals in detail, other than to say that foreign investors would not be allowed

to take an ownership position.

He added that specifics about joint ventures haven't been decided.

Terres Rouges Consultants, the French company that used to own and manage Chup plantation,

wants to return to run the 13,500 hectare plantation "if its not too risky,"

said Philippe Monnin, the French technical advisor working on the revamping of the

plantations.

He said Terres Rouges has made at least three offers over the past few years.

Societé Investment Agriculture Tropicale (SIAT), a Belgian company that manages

rubber estates in Nigeria and Ghana, has made an offer to manage 2,500 hectares of

rubber trees in the remote northeastern province of Rattanakiri.

Alain Gascuel, the agent for SIAT, said the company could invest up to $30 million.

He said one reason for SIAT's interest is that the Belgian government, having had

disastrous experiences in some African countries, is encouraging Belgian companies

to establish ties in Asia.

He said SIAT has been trying for three years to talk to "anyone from the government."

He said three weeks ago SIAT was told by the Council for the Development of Cambodia

(CDC) that it has "authority in principal" but that the company must meet

with the governor of Rattanakiri and the Minister of Agriculture.

Gascuel said SIAT considers Cambodia to be a risk, but that if it can do well with

the rubber plantation, the company would be interested in doing something with palm

oil.

"Anytime you inevst you have a risk," he said. "But it's a small investment."

The government of North Korea is also interested in Rattanakiri.

It has negotiated with Agriculture Minister Tao Seng Hour for the rights to lease

10,000 hectares or more in Rattanakiri to grow rubber.

North Korea needs rubber for its industry and factories and they wanted a five year

deal that would give them 500 tons of rubber a month at $850 a ton.

They would supposedly replant the trees later, according to one party close to the

deal.

"In principal the government agreed to their proposal, but we would like to

see the details" said Teng Lao.

"The North Koreans don't have experience in rubber plantations, so it's a question,"

he said.

The other interested company is Cambodia Aldec, a joint venture between MARDEC, the

state run Malaysian Rubber Development Co., which manages the small rubber producers

in Malaysia, and the French company ALCAN.

ALDEC has not yet made an offer.

According to a source close to the negotiations, officials of both the partners met

with First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh in July and told him "they

are ready to do something" and Ranariddh responded that a French and Malaysian

venture "was exactly what we want."

ALDEC is interested in running a large plantation, possibly a 7,000 hectare plantation

in Memot near Vietnam, according to Cambodge Nouveau, a business newsletter in Phnom

Penh.

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