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Nearly 300 workers from German shipping group Hapag-Lloyd protested on Tuesday against a possible takeover by Singapore’s NOL a day before the cabinet is due to pass a law to shield domestic firms from foreign buyers.
Singapore’s Neptune Orient Lines and a group of Hamburg investors are on the short list to buy Hapag-Lloyd, the world’s fifth largest container shipping group and a unit of Germany’s TUI, Europe’s biggest travel firm.
If NOL is successful, the deal would create the world’s third-largest container carrier.
But the offer by NOL, 66 percent owned by Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings, has caused concern in Germany, not least about possible job cuts, and the government has welcomed the Hamburg bid to keep the firm in German hands.
Close to 300 Hapag-Lloyd employees marched outside the Singapore Embassy in Berlin, blowing whistles, ringing bells and waving banners saying “Hands Off Singapore!” and “Save Our Jobs!”, a company spokeswoman said.
It is one of several instances recently of foreign firms or funds either taking stakes in or showing interest in German firms which have sparked concern about foreign influence in strategic sectors.
In response, ministries have drawn up new rules to allow the government to review and even veto purchases by foreign investors of stakes in domestic firms of 25 percent or more if national security is at stake.
Economists have warned, however, that any signs the government of the world’s biggest exporter of goods is taking a protectionist turn could frighten off foreign buyers.
Other cases which have caused concern in Germany include the purchase by Taiwanese group BenQ of a mobile phone business from Siemens which a year later went bankrupt with the loss of 3,000 German jobs.
German shipping group Hapag-Lloyd would benefit from a takeover by rival Neptune Orient Lines, as did U.S. container group APL when it was bought by the Singapore firm, the FT on Wednesday quoted NOL’s boss as saying.
“APL was acquired by a foreign company as a company that at the time had a 150-year history and has many of the same emotions and concerns on the part of the people that worked for APL in terms of being acquired by a foreign company,” NOL Chief Executive Ron Widdows told the Financial Times.
NOL bought American President Lines in 1997 and has kept the brand name for its core container shipping business. Widdows, who took over as CEO last month after the abrupt exit of German-born CEO Thomas Held, joined NOL at the time of the APL takeover.
The fact that NOL is 66 percent owned by Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings has added to the controversy in Germany. On Tuesday, nearly 300 Hapag-Lloyd workers protested outside Singapore’s Berlin embassy against the possible deal, a day before the cabinet is due to pass a law to shield domestic firms from foreign buyers.