The Commerce Commission has cleared Hancock Natural Resource Group to buy the forestry assets of Carter Holt Harvey.

US-based forestry manager Hancock is one of two potential buyers seeking competition clearance because they already manage or own forestry businesses in New Zealand.

Carter Holt Harvey (CHH) is selling 250,000ha of its 290,000ha forestry estate, adding to the sale of nearly 100,000ha of its forests last year.

The Dominion reported today that three potential buyers and one "dark horse" were lining up for the assets, including Global Forest Partners, which is also seeking commission clearance.

Te Kuiti-based Kokakotaea Forestry Corporation, which owns and manages 52,000ha of the estate, told the paper it believed the parties had to make their final bids on Friday.

The corporation thought it would take until the end of November to close the deal.

The forests have a book value of around $1.5 billion and are located in Northland, Auckland, Central North Island, Hawke's Bay and Nelson.

About 100,000ha of the land is freehold, and the rest is non-freehold land, standing timber, plant and equipment, business contracts, licences and contents.

The sale would eclipse previous forestry deals including the 2004 sales by the former Fletcher Challenge Forests and the Central North Island Forests Partnership of 107,000ha and 165,000ha respectively.

It has also sparked speculation over the fate of the rest of CHH assets.

These include four pulp and paper mills, sawmills in the upper North Island, Nelson and Australia, packaging plants in New Zealand and Australia and panel and plywood mills in New Zealand, Australia and China.

Global timber managers known as timber management organisations (Timos) have bought up large tracts of forests in New Zealand in recent years for clients that have included Harvard University's endowment fund and the New Zealand Superfund.

- NZPA