(Bloomberg) -- Bumps on the road are not unusual for corporate China, even for the largest initial public offerings. Still, having spent roughly four years on on-again off-again preparations for a listing, executives and advisers at agrochemical giant Syngenta Group were left shocked by a last-minute hitch.

Syngenta had been due to have a hearing Wednesday with the Shanghai Stock Exchange, one of the last steps before launch. Instead, with a day to go, the exchange called off the meeting, saying only that “the situation warrants a cancellation.” 

Company executives and bankers told Bloomberg News they were left stunned. Several made frantic calls to contacts and acquaintances to find out what was happening, while others reported colleagues scanning the official exchange website for past instances of similar setbacks, and answers.

The company had also contacted exchange authorities to seek clarity but did not receive a detailed response, said people familiar with the matter. They asked not to be identified as they’re not authorized to speak publicly. 

Syngenta Group declined to comment on Wednesday. The Shanghai Stock Exchange did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Official approval is necessary for the company to proceed with the 65 billion yuan ($9.4 billion) listing on Shanghai’s Nasdaq-style Star Board, set to be the biggest IPO globally this year. The preparations for the IPO are ongoing and a listing hearing could still be scheduled later, the people said.

The hiccup could hurt ChemChina’s deleveraging efforts, as Syngenta may have to issue more debt to sustain its earnings growth, not least as crop prices probably peaked in 2022, Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Andrew Chan and Hui Yen Tay said in a note. 

Syngenta also needs cash to continue increasing research spending, if it is to further Beijing’s strategic goals and help China’s farmers and others cope with new challenges, including climate change.

A Swiss agricultural chemicals and seeds outfit, Syngenta was acquired by China National Chemical Corp., or ChemChina, in 2017 for $43 billion, a record-breaking acquisition for the country, and one that spoke to Beijing’s growing concerns around food security. With China accounting for a fifth of the world’s population but barely 10% of the globe’s arable land, those have only increased as the geopolitical temperature has risen. Syngenta products like genetically-modified seeds are also crucial to meeting official goals of improving the quality and quantity of agricultural production.

Sinochem Holdings Corp. absorbed ChemChina in 2021. Since then, Syngenta has also incorporated the agricultural business of Sinochem.

It’s not the first time the Shanghai exchange has called off IPO hearings, though. At least three have been canceled in the past four months, according to notices on the exchange website. A hearing for Aurora Technologies Co. was canceled in February a day before it was set to take place. Hearings for Shenzhen VMAX New Energy Co. and Yeasen Biotechnology (Shanghai) Co. were called off in January and November, respectively. 

Much of this also coincides with substantial regulatory change in China, as well as news this week of anti-graft checks on more than 30 state-owned entities by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. In times of major change, bureaucrats and watchdogs in Beijing and elsewhere display little appetite for risk.

But even in quieter times, the very highest-profile listings can find themselves derailed in China at the eleventh hour. In 2020, days before its debut and with billions on the line, Chinese authorities called off the listing of Ant Group Co. It was set to be the world’s largest. It remains unlisted.

--With assistance from Dong Cao, Claudia Maedler, Amanda Wang and Jun Luo.

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