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SAO PAULO (Reuters) - After Norway's Yara pulled out as a potential bidder, Vale SA (VALE5.SA) has resumed searching for a buyer for four fertilizer plants that were not included in a $2.5 billion sale to Mosaic Co, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter.
A reworked sale process for plants located in the southeastern city of Cubatão was launched in recent days, in the wake of Yara International ASA's November decision to withdraw, the people said. Talks between Yara (YAR.OL) and Vale had taken place for several months, said the first person.
The assets include four plants producing phosphate-based, ammonia and nitrogen byproducts, the people said. Rio de Janeiro-based Vale has put a series of non-core assets on the block over the last 18 months to meet a $10 billion debt-reduction goal set by Chief Executive Officer Murilo Ferreira.
A spokeswoman for Vale's fertilizers division said in an emailed statement to Reuters that the company "remains in talks to sell the Cubatão assets." Norway's Yara declined to comment.
The people spoke under the condition of anonymity since the process remains under way.
Vale preferred shares, its most widely traded class of stock, fell 3.4 percent on Tuesday to 33.23 reais, paring back their gain to 40 percent this year.
The ammonia and nitrogen production facilities were carved out from the fertilizer assets that Vale sold to Mosaic (MOS.N) in December.
The debt-reduction plan is aimed at helping insulate the world's largest iron ore producer from declining commodity prices. Still, as iron prices recovered late last year, Vale has had room to rethink the pace of an asset sale plan.
News of Yara's retreat comes in the wake of Vale's Feb. 6 announcement that it would book a $1.2 billion impairment related to the fertilizer unit sale to Mosaic. The company did not specify the reasons for the impairment in the announcement.
Analysts at Itaú BBA estimated in December that the fertilizer assets in the Cubatão complex could be valued from $400 million to $600 million.
The Cubatão compound was built in the 1970s and acquired by Vale in 2010. The ammonia plant caught fire and was forced to halt production earlier this year.
Editing by Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Cynthia Osterman