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Bayer-Monsanto deal one step closer, after EU nod

Published on 22/03/18 at 09:34am

The merger between Bayer and agricultural giant, Monsanto, is inching closer to completion after the EU Commission won EU antitrust approval.

The $62.5 billion deal was agreed in September 2016 but, such is the scale of the merger, it is still in the process of rumbling towards conclusion. Bayer had previously revealed that it expects the deal to close by the second quarter of this year and reaffirmed it is still working towards that deadline.

For the approval to be given, the EU demanded that the companies agreed sales of assets in order to boost rivals and ensure a level-playing field, of sorts, across the industry.

This led to Bayer boosting rival BASF SE, by selling on vegetable seeds units, pesticides and digital agriculture technology to the company for approximately $7.4 billion. This was enough to satisfy the EU and it gave approval.

“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.”

Even with divestment, the potential agricultural behemoth is set to control more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market.

There has been a significant campaign against the merger, with Vestager confirming that the commission had received in excess of one million petitions regarding the deal.

The fear is that one company holding such a significant portion of the global food supply could be a threat on a number of levels – it threatens competition in an already rapidly consolidating market, for environmental reasons, with the use of pesticides to ensure crop yield, and the controversy over Monsanto’s use of genetically modified crops.

Ms Vestager, in response, said that there was little the antitrust investigation could do on these fronts, “While these concerns are of great importance, they cannot form the basis of a merger assessment.”

For Bayer, forging ahead to become an agribusiness giant, it still leaves questions of how its pharmaceutical division is doing whilst attention is deflected elsewhere. In fourth quarter results, it announced pharma sales of €4.21 billion, fully 4% below what analysts expected – suggesting that fears of a pharma division struggle may have proven true.

Ben Hargreaves

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