THE number of prospective owners or business partners in the NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative has been narrowed down to three.
Co-op chief executive officer Chris Connors said that three years ago there was a list of 40 prospective business partners, but that had been cut right back and the remaining few were from Australia and overseas.
He would not give details on the remaining three, apart from to say they had no prior connections with the sugar industry. It was unlikely the deal would require Foreign Investment Review Board approval as it was unlikely to reach the trigger level, but it was something the board was keeping in mind.
"This is not just about money," he said.
"If it was just about money we could be very mercenary. It is about getting the best deal for growers that will set us up for the future.
"There is a number of criteria we want to meet."
Mr Connors said there was a misconception the co-operative was only considering the sale of the mills and the co-operative's assets. What they were looking for was a commercial arrangement, which might be a sale or an equity partner, that would best meet growers' needs.
He said there was no urgency about finalising a deal, but keeping the cooperative in its current form was "not an option".
"We have good programs, but they need some heavy capital," he said.
"I would have loved to have had the process complete by now, but we have to deliver the right outcome."
He said that once the board had made its decision, it would go to the growers and explain the process.
"This is not new to them - we have been keeping them updated," he said.
"We will continue to give growers updates."
Once the board has made its decision and growers have been consulted, the growers (shareholders) will decide.
Mr Connors said there was no time frame for that to occur.
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