JBS Australia CEO confident Huon takeover will get the green light from Australia regulators

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‘What happened in Brazil is unfortunate, and in no way reflects how we operate our business in the US or Australia.’

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the first since the planned takeover of Huon by JBS was announced, Brent Eastwood, the CEO of the meat processing giant’s Australian operations, says he is confident Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board will green light the takeover.

In early August, Huon Aquaculture Group announced in a press release that it has entered into a deal with an Australian subsidiary of JBS under which it is proposed that JBS will acquire 100 per cent of the Tasmanian salmon producer for a cash consideration of $3.85 per share. The deal valued Huon at approximately A$425 million (US$314 million).

Read more: FIRB to decide on JBS bid for Huon as Tattarang waits in the wings

Since then, the deal has been something of a rollercoaster ride as first Andrew Forrest and then Cooke Aquaculture, in turn, made clear their own intentions to get their hands on Huon.

Huon 12 month transaction history according to MarketIndex.com:

Date Name Bought Previous % New %
10-08-21 Tattarang Agrifood Pty Ltd 12,276,327 7.33 18.51
06-08-21 JBS Australia Pty Limited 44,527,252 40.53
17-06-21 Tattarang Agrifood Pty Ltd 8,057,839 7.33
12-03-21 Credit Suisse Holdings (Australia) Limited 5,970,876 5.43
07-12-20 Australiansuper Pty Ltd 3,648,500 9.36 12.62
30-09-20 Mr Peter Bender and his associates 181,352 66.06 52.67
16-09-20 Regal Funds Management Pty Ltd 3,228,334 8.47 9.73
02-09-20 Australiansuper Pty Ltd 10,220,063 9.36

 

Currently, the takeover is in the hands of Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board who will be taking into consideration some of the problems that JBS has had in the recent past: In 2017, it was revealed that JBS executive Ricardo Saud had bribed 1,829 political candidates from across the political spectrum in Brazil.

Eastwood, however believes that those days are long behind the company and that JBS Australia should be judged on its own track record. “What happened in Brazil is unfortunate, and in no way reflects how we operate our business in the US or Australia. Our track record on Australia is beyond reproach, we run a very ethical, very compliant business in this country.”

Commenting on the work of the regulatory body, Eastwood said, “The Foreign Investment Review Board have always done a very good job in Australia. We’ve had a very good relationship with them in the past. We are not in the business of giving a commitment and doing the opposite. So we have no reason to see why FIRB would see this as any different than any other acquisition we have made in Australia.”

A growing business
In a message to any Huon staff worried about the takeover, he continued, “They should be very confident in in how we approach our businesses. We’ve purchased a lot of companies around Australia in the last 14 years. And we’re all about building and growing. And, we don’t know much about aquaculture. They are the experts, we have a lot to learn. We’re looking to grow the business, we’re looking to build on the legacy they’ve already created for Benders and the team and grow it. Definitely not shrink it, that’s not in our DNA.”

Talking about the Huon takeover battle still raging with likes of Andrew Forrest and Cooke Aquaculture, Eastwood said, “we’ve made a very compelling offer that we believe gives the current shareholders including the major shareholders, you’re talking about a very strong return – a very good opportunity to exit the business at a good time. So we think it’s a compelling offer. Now it’s in the hands of the shareholders.”

Land-based salmon
Finally, the conversation turned to Land-based salmon farming where the JBS chief had this to say, “I’ve learned a lot about salmon in the last few months. But I must admit I’m still a very much a novice.”

“The reality is a salmon spends at least two years of its life on land, before it’s finished in the sea. Now, so It’s really a land based business for a large percentage of its life. So to do what what the vendors and the team have done for trying to move into the outer ocean and be far more focused on that is a really, really good sustainability story.”