SYDNEY :Australia has barred the takeover of financially stricken lithium miner Alita Resources Ltd by a China-linked company after advice from its Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), a spokesperson for Treasurer Jim Chalmers said on Friday.
Australia supplies around half of the world’s lithium as well as other minerals including rare earths used in batteries for electric cars and defence. It is seeking to boost trade with the U.S. and its allies amid a global push to diversify supply chains away from dominant producer China.
It is the second decision by the board to block a Chinese investment in critical minerals this year.
Chalmers issued a prohibition order stopping Austroid Corporation from acquiring an additional 90.10 per cent of lithium miner Alita Resources, which would bring its stake to 100 per cent.
Austroid Australia, the local subsidiary of the U.S. based Austroid, is also barred from a proposal to wholly acquire Alita, a prohibition notice shows.
The director of Austroid Australia is a Chinese national with experience in the Chinese mining industry, company filings show.
Alita has been under administration since 2019. Austroid said in a statement it was “shocked and disappointed” by the decision to block the takeover deal which would convert debt to equity, and said it was yet to fully understand the implications for the operation of the Bald Hill lithium mine, which exports to China.
Austroid said it had invested significant funding in Bald Hill to allow it to restart operations in 2022 after administrators were appointed in 2019.
Alita’s administrators, McGrath Nicol, said in a notice to shareholders on Wednesday that Austroid had said it had withdrawn an application to the FIRB Board and intended to make a new application.
Chalmer’s office declined to say whether the acquisition had been blocked on national interest grounds.
Austroid Corporation’s director is Mike Que, filings show. He is the son of China’s Que Wenbin who has a major interest in Chinese lithium battery maker Sichuan Western Resource.
Mike Que was also sole director at China Hydrogen Energy Limited (CHEL), a Cayman Islands company, which was unable to get FIRB approval for a 2019 takeover attempt of Alita, company filings show.
Beijing has previously criticised Australia for blocking Chinese investment on national security grounds. China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, said last week after meeting Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong that Australia should provide a “non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese enterprises to invest” in Australia.
China dropped out of the top 10 sources of foreign investment in Australia in the first quarter of 2023, a Treasury report showed in July.
Chalmers this week called for more progress in China lifting trade restrictions on Australian exports before a visit to Beijing by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is scheduled.