By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – German drug and crop chemicals maker Bayer is set to win conditional European Union antitrust approval for its $62.5 billion bid for world No. 1 seed company Monsanto, two people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The takeover, one of a trio of major deals in the agribusiness sector in recent years, would create a company with a share of more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market.
Shifting weather patterns, competition in grain exports and a souring global farm economy have spurred consolidation among the major players, triggering protests from environmental and farming groups worried about their market power.
Bayer has already pledged to sell certain seed and herbicide assets for 5.9 billion euros ($7.2 billion) to BASF to address EU regulatory concerns.
The company will also give BASF a license to its digital farming data, and it appears BASF will have exclusive access as Bayer has not offered a legal obligation to license to other rivals, a person with knowledge of the matter has told Reuters.
Earlier on Wednesday, Bayer said additional antitrust concessions would include the sale of its vegetable seeds business, confirming a Reuters report.
The European Commission, which is expected to issue a decision on the deal ahead of its April 5 deadline, declined to comment.
Bayer also declined to comment on the sources’ comments, saying it continued a constructive dialogue with the EU competition watchdog. It added the regulatory process in Europe was further advanced than in the United States where the deal also requires clearance.
French seeds producer Vilmorin said it would consider taking over some vegetable seed activities put up for sale by Bayer.
“It will depend on the breakdown that will be made. If there are clever and targeted things to do, why not, but if it’s all-encompassing then clearly we don’t have the profile for it to be accepted by the authorities,” Vilmorin Chief Executive Daniel Jacquemond told reporters after unveiling first-half results.
The Bayer-Monsanto tie-up has sparked criticism from environmentalists and some farming groups concerned about its market power and first mover advantage in digital farming data.
Some who met on Tuesday with European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who has received more than 50,000 petition emails and more than 5,000 letters opposed to the deal, were not reassured.
“Approving this merger would create the world’s biggest agribusiness company, potentially crushing competitors and establishing an unprecedented monopoly on lucrative farming data,” said Adrian Bebb at environmental lobbying group Friends of the Earth Europe.
“Public opinion is against the merger, and farmers and consumers would have every right to be outraged by the Commission giving it the green light.”
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Additional reporting by Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt and Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris; Editing by Alexander Smith and Mark Potter)