China Merchants Port Holdings' (CMPort) acquisition of a 50 per cent stake in Australia's port of Newcastle, the world's largest coal port, for AUD607.5 million (US$457.5 million) in now subject to a review by Australian authorities.
The deal comes at a time of heightened political and trade tension between the strong-performing Asian economies.
Exporters in Australia's wine sector, including Pernod Ricard, owner of the Jacob's Creek, the country's largest wine brand, and the New South Wales-based McWilliams Wines, have complained of serious delays at China Customs that could derail forecasts for Australian wine exports to top AUD1 billion in value for the first time this year.
Wine exporters are pressing the Australian government to resolve its issues with China to protect trade and revenues from one of its key export destinations, reported IHS Media.
The Newcastle port deal extends the global port footprint of CMPort to six continents, after the February acquisition of a 90 per cent stake in TCP Participacoes, the operator of the port of Paranagua in Brazil.
"The port of Newcastle will complement the current trading network covered by the company's port portfolio and will further generate synergies and positive long-term financial returns for the company," CMPort said in a statement announcing the completion of the acquisition.
The port of Newcastle has a total land area of 792 hectares, including 200 hectares of vacant port land available for development. It is aggressively seeking to overturn a clause in an agreement between the government of NSW and port Kembla that blocks it from carrying out a plan to develop a major container terminal operation.
"This arrangement, now under investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, would see (port Kembla) paid 'compensation' for every TEU handled (above a nominal threshold) if a successful container terminal is operated in Newcastle," said Newcastle's acting CEO Simon Gelder.
CMPort's 2017 volume rose 7.4 per cent at its global container facilities to 102.9 million TEU. Earnings increased by 9.7 per cent to $768 million. Revenue from the core ports business was up 9.6 per cent to $3.4 billion.
At the results announcement in Hong Kong earlier this month, deputy general manager Yang Gang said CMPort was not concerned about a possible China-US trade war and may even benefit from such a situation.
"The loss (of business) from a trade war can be compensated by trade from Southeast Asia and Europe.
"Our home base in west Shenzhen serves a relatively small proportion (of US-bound trade). (A trade war) might even benefit CMPort as our business mainly serves Southeast Asia and Europe shipping routes," Mr Gang said.
The company forecasts strong growth will continue this year due to the favourable global financial environment, strong global demand and a projected 6.6 per cent GDP growth rate for China's economy.