Wilmar International, the world's largest listed palm oil company, has hired three banks to handle what sources say could be a $3 billion flotation of its China business.

The Hong Kong IPO would be among the biggest so far this year in Asia, where companies have rushed back to the equity market as its gains have gathered pace.

The Singapore-based company previously said it plans to list 20-30 percent of its China operation to tap investor interest in its biggest market and to raise cash for acquisitions.

Sources with direct knowledge of the matter said on Friday that the company has hired BOC International, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley (MS.N) to handle the offering.

Wilmar and Goldman declined to comment. BOCI -- Bank of China's investment banking arm -- and Morgan Stanley could not immediately be reached.

The IPO is set for a Hong Kong listing late this year or early next, said one of the sources involved, who could not speak publicly about the deal.

Wilmar said in May that China accounts for about half of its overall sales, generating about $600 million in profit and $14.3 billion in revenues last year.

Malaysia's benchmark palm oil price KPOc3 dropped from a record 4,486 ringgit ($1,278) per tonne in early March 2008 to 2,000 ringgit at the end of the first quarter.

However, prices have recovered and the commodity now trades at around 2,700 ringgit.

Wilmar owns palm oil plantations and runs milling, crushing, refining and processing plants across the globe. It has operations in more than 20 countries across four continents, with a primary focus on Indonesia, Malaysia, China, India and Europe. The company employs 70,000 people.

(Additional reporting by Saeed Azhar in Singapore; Editing by David Cowell, John Stonestreet)