August 9, 2011 / 5:49 PM / 6 years ago

UPDATE 1-GDF Suez approves China alliance -board member

* China's CIC to pay 2.3 bln eur for 30 pct unit stake

* GDF Suez finds financial backer for costly projects

* Beijing strengthens hand in Western energy assets

* French CGT union angry over deal

*

PARIS, Aug 9 (Reuters) - (Updates with board backing for alliance)

By Marie Maitre

PARIS, Aug 9 (Reuters) - French utility GDF Suez's board gave the green light for an alliance with China's sovereign wealth fund that will help it expand in the booming Asia-Pacific region, a board member told Reuters on Tuesday.

The deal will see China Investment Corp (CIC) pay 2.3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) for a 30 percent stake in GDF's exploration and production business, the board member said.

Asked if the deal had been approved at a board meeting on Tuesday, the board member said: "Yes."

"CIC will make an investment in the order of 2.3 billion euros for a stake of 30 percent (in the unit)," the board member said, declining to be identified by name.

GDF and CIC are due to sign the deal in the coming days, though no date has been set, the board member added.

Under the agreement, which would mark China's latest bid to boost its influence over Western-owned energy assets, CIC would help GDF Suez finance expansion plans in power-hungry Asia and win contracts in China.

The project "is a good one for GDF Suez, both financially and commercially", the board member said earlier on Tuesday.

GDF Suez, which reports first-half earnings on Wednesday, has declined to comment on the China alliance.

ENERGY RACE

China has been scouring the globe to secure access to energy to fuel its booming economy.

Last month, China's top offshore oil producer CNOOC agreed to buy struggling oil sands company Opti Canada , soon after PetroChina failed to agree on the terms of a $5.6 billion venture with Encana Corp .

The CIC accord, GDF Suez's second large deal in less than a year after its acquisition of 70 percent of British group International Power via an asset swap, provoked the ire of French unions.

"We are selling the crown jewels one after the other," said CGT representative Jean-Francois Di Giovanni, who attended a workers' meeting convened by GDF Suez Chief Executive Gerard Mestrallet on Tuesday.

"They are selling part of what was the historical Gaz de France in order to finance the international expansion. This will have implications for our staff," Di Giovanni said, referring to France's state-owned gas group that merged with Suez in 2008 in a deal initiated by the government.

GDF Suez is the world's biggest utility with a market value of around $64 billion and annual sales of 85 billion euros.

Its exploration and production business, of which CIC would become a stakeholder, has been a marginal one for GDF Suez, which relies on Algerian, Dutch, Norwegian and Russian suppliers for the gas it sells.

GDF Suez produced more than 50 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe) in 2010 compared with 868 million for Total , the French-based oil and gas major.

Getting fresh cash could accelerate the Paris-based group's drive to fund capital-intensive projects.

GDF Suez has said it would spend an average 11 billion euros a year from 2011-13 on gas and power production projects in emerging countries, where the group expects 80 percent of the world's new power production capacity to be built over the next 20 years. ($1 = 0.7099 euro) (Editing by Dan Lalor, James Regan and David Hulmes)

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