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Germany is reassessing whether to allow a Chinese firm to buy a stake in a Hamburg port, the economy ministry said on April 12, after the terminal was classed as critical infrastructure. Image Credit: AFP

Hamburg: Germany is revisiting a contentious decision to allow Chinese state-owned conglomerate Cosco Shipping Holdings to buy a 24.9 per cent stake in one of Hamburg’s port terminals after a government agency reclassified the port terminal as critical infrastructure.

The investigation into Cosco’s planned investment in the Hamburg port terminal Tollerort is ongoing and Berlin’s final approval of the transaction is still pending, Economy Ministry spokeswoman Beate Baron told reporters at a regular government briefing in Berlin.

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Earlier on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the HHLA port operator confirmed media reports that the BSI government agency changed the status of the port terminal to critical infrastructure at the beginning of this year following new legislation passed by Scholz’s ruling coalition in December.

“Since the circumstances have changed, we as the Economy Ministry are examining the consequences,” Baron said. Asked if this means that the government could still block the Cosco plan, the ministry spokeswoman added that she could not speculate about the outcome of the review. She gave no hint if and when Berlin might approve the investment.

Port compromise

The German government had initially agreed on a compromise which would have allowed the Chinese state-owned shipping conglomerate Cosco to buy a 24.9 per cent stake in one of Hamburg’s port terminals.

The stake would be just shy of what’s considered a blocking minority in Germany. This decision prevents a strategic investment in one of Hamburger Hafen und Logistik’s terminals and reduces the acquisition to a purely financial investment, the economy ministry said in a statement back then.

The coalition deal reached in October was seen as a face-saving solution for Scholz, who had initially supported the sale of a 35 per cent stake to Cosco. But several ministers, including Economy Minister Robert Habeck and Finance Minister Christian Lindner had voiced their opposition to a bigger stake.

A spokesperson for HHLA said under the planned investment, Cosco would not gain any access or decision-making rights when it comes to the operational management of the terminal, all customer relationships and also the IT systems.