(Add Justice Department statement)
By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS, March 21 (Reuters) - German conglomerate Bayer
won EU antitrust approval on Wednesday for its $62.5
billion buy of U.S. peer Monsanto, the latest in a trio
of mega mergers that will reshape the agrochemicals industry.
The tie-up is set to create a company with control of more
than a quarter of the world's seed and pesticides market.
Driven by shifting weather patterns, competition in grain
exports and a faltering global farm economy, Dow and
Dupont, and ChemChina and Syngenta had earlier led a
wave of consolidation in the sector.
Both deals secured EU approval only after the companies
offered substantial asset sales to boost rivals.
Environmental and farming groups have opposed all three
deals, worried about their power and their advantage in digital
farming data, which can tell farmers how and when to till, sow,
spray, fertilise and pick crops based on algorithms.
The European Commission said Bayer addressed its concerns
with its offer to sell a swathe of assets to boost rival BASF
, confirming a Reuters story on Feb. 28.
"Our decision ensures that there will be effective
competition and innovation in seeds, pesticides and digital
agriculture markets also after this merger," European
Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.
"In particular, we have made sure that the number of global
players actively competing in these markets stays the same."
Vestager said the Commission, which received more than a
million petitions concerning the deal, had been thorough by
examining more than 2,000 different product markets and 2.7
million internal documents to produce a 1,285-page ruling.
The U.S. Justice Department, which is also reviewing the
merger, said in a statement on its website that it would press
on with its review and that the market in the two regions was
"While genetically modified seeds are largely prohibited in
Europe, they are widely used throughout the United States," the
department noted. "The Antitrust Division of the Department of
Justice continues to examine the effects of the proposed
transaction on American farmers and consumers."
China has given conditional approval to the Bayer and
Monsanto deal, which has won a green light in Brazil. It is
currently being reviewed by Russian antitrust authorities too.
Bayer has already reached a deal to sell certain seed and
herbicide assets for 5.9 billion euros ($7.2 billion) to BASF
and to give it a licence to its global digital farming data. It
will also divest its vegetable seeds business to BASF.
The Commission is due to rule on the BASF deal by April 16.
Online campaigns group Avaaz criticised the EU approval.
"This is a marriage made in hell. The Commission ignored a
million people who called on them to block this deal, and caved
in to lobbying to create a mega-corporation which will dominate
our food supply," Avaaz legal director Nick Flynn said.
U.S.-incorporated Avaaz, funded by its members, is active in
climate change, poverty, conflict and corruption issues.
The Greens grouping in the European Parliament echoed the
sentiment, saying smaller players in the agriculture industry
needed to be helped too.
"The agriculture industry is already far too concentrated,
giving a handful of massive firms a stranglehold on food
production. Merging two of the biggest players only makes a bad
situation worse," Greens spokesman Bart Staes said.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee with additional reporting by Diane
Bartz in Washington; editing by Robin Emmott, David Evans and
First Published: 2018-03-21 14:41:11
Updated 2018-03-21 20:22:40
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