[Ip-health] FT: EU launches in-depth probe into Bayer-Monsanto deal

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri Aug 25 08:44:49 PDT 2017


https://www.ft.com/content/33ec45d6-872b-11e7-8bb1-5ba57d47eff7

EU launches in-depth probe into Bayer-Monsanto deal

Antitrust watchdog fears ‘higher prices, lower quality, less choice and
less innovation’

AUGUST 22, 2017 by: Rochelle Toplensky in Brussels
Brussels has launched an in-depth probe into German chemical giant Bayer’s
$66bn purchase of Monsanto, the latest in a trio of megamergers reshaping
the global agri-business industry and one that would create the world’s
largest supplier of seeds and crop chemicals.

European antitrust authorities worry the deal would “reduce competition in
a number of different markets resulting in higher prices, lower quality,
less choice and less innovation”. The view echoes concerns raised by some
farmers, regulators and politicians over a combination one environmental
campaigner has dubbed a “marriage made in hell”.

Margrethe Vestager, European competition commissioner, is concerned the
deal could reduce competition and research and development in pesticides,
seeds and so-called traits, which are the patented characteristics of
genetically modified seeds.

Brussels is also worried it could lead to lower investment in new digital
technologies for farms, such as using data to tailor farming methods.

“We need to ensure effective competition so that farmers can have access to
innovative products, better quality and also purchase products at
competitive prices,” said Ms Vestager. “And at the same time maintain an
environment where companies can innovate and invest in improved products.”

The fixes Bayer and Monsanto offered at the end of July in an attempt to
address the regulator’s concerns proved insufficient. Details of that
proposal remain confidential but Brussels is expected to seek disposals in
product development, as well as areas where the businesses overlap, such as
cotton seed, rapeseed and pesticides.

Bayer said it had expected an in-depth review “due to the size and scope of
the transaction” and maintained the combination would be “highly beneficial
for farmers and consumers”.

Monsanto added: “Through this combination, we look forward to supporting
growers in their efforts to be more productive, more profitable and more
sustainable”.

However, farmers and politicians have raised concerns about the effect of
allowing a small number of big companies to dominate the agricultural
industry.

“It’s vital to keep a competitive market with a good range of
plant-protection products and other agricultural inputs available, with a
long-term commitment to research and product development, in order to meet
the needs of European farmers and their co-operatives,” said Pekka Pesonen
at the European farmers organisation Copa and Cogeca.

The EU investigation will focus only on the deal’s effect on competition,
Ms Vestager explained in a letter in response to more than 50,000 emails,
5,000 letters and numerous tweets raising concerns about the deal. An
online petition asking antitrust regulators to block the deal has gathered
more than 1m signatures.

Germany’s Bayer is a global, life sciences conglomerate that makes drugs
for humans and animals, raw materials for plastics, crop chemicals and
seeds.

US-based Monsanto is best known for its Roundup herbicide and
genetically-modified seeds and traits with sales focused in North and South
America.

Last month, 17 Democratic senators wrote to US antitrust authorities saying
they were worried the deal would reduce competition, limit seed options and
increase prices for farmers and consumers.

The letter claimed that Bayer-Monsanto controlled nearly a quarter of the
world’s pesticides sales and that Bayer-Monsanto and Dow-Dupont (another
recently combined agri-business giant) would control 76 per cent of the
market for corn and 66 per cent of the market for soyabeans.

The Bayer-Monsanto deal would accelerate the rapid consolidation of the
global agri-business market, following on from the merger of Dow Chemical
and Dupont and the ChemChina acquisition of Swiss-seed-maker Syngenta.

Brussels conducted in-depth investigations on both those deals and approved
them earlier this year once it had secured concessions including the
disposal of substantial part of the businesses.

Dow and Dupont agreed to sell nearly all of DuPont’s crop-spray research
and development capability to counter EU officials’ qualms that together
the companies would develop fewer new crop-protection chemicals.

ChemChina sold a large part of its European generic crop chemical business
to gain EU clearance for its purchase of Syngenta.

European authorities have until January 8 to reach a decision on whether to
clear the Bayer acquisition of Monsanto, however both companies insisted
they were hopeful of closing the deal before the end of 2017. Brussels is
not the only regulator that has to approve the deal — 30 antitrust bodies
around the world are considering its implications. But Ms Vestager demanded
the most far-reaching concessions in the other two agri-mergers.

Additional reporting by Tobias Buck


-- 
Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org



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