ChemChina Gets EU Nod for Syngenta Deal One Day After U.S.

  • Companies divest overlapping pesticide, plant growth products
  • Pesticide takeover would be China’s largest foreign purchase

China National Chemical Corp. won European Union antitrust approval for its $43 billion takeover of Swiss pesticide maker Syngenta AG, a day after the U.S. gave its blessing, bringing China’s largest foreign acquisition closer to the finish line.

ChemChina’s offer to divest some pesticides and other agricultural products will remove "problematic overlaps" and allow the EU to clear the deal, the European Commission said in an emailed statement. EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager praised the companies for being "prepared to address our concerns" with the concessions, she said at a news conference, as she blocked another deal based on a proposed divestment that fell short.

The U.S. required the companies to divest three types of pesticides as a condition for completing the deal. The companies expect to close the deal by the end of June. The transaction still needs approval from Chinese antitrust authorities.

The takeover, announced a year ago, is one of a trio of mega-deals that would reshape the global agrochemicals industry. Dow Chemical Co.’s $77 billion bid to merge with DuPont Co. cleared its biggest hurdle last week when it won EU approval with hefty concessions. Bayer AG still needs approval for its purchase of Monsanto Co. The combined transactions would whittle six industry players to three behemoths: one American, one German and one Chinese.

Syngenta rose 1.4 percent to 453.80 Swiss francs in Zurich. ChemChina’s offer values the stock at about 471.27 francs. Syngenta traded almost 94 francs below the offer price in November on concern that regulators would block the deal. That gap now has narrowed to about 17.47 francs as investors grew increasingly confident it would survive scrutiny.

The deal comes amid a wave of Chinese investment overseas, setting off concerns in the U.S. Chinese foreign direct investment in America reached a record $45.6 billion in 2016, according to data provided by research firm Rhodium Group.

President Donald Trump has ordered a study to identify “trade abuse” that contributes to U.S. trade deficits with foreign countries before a meeting with President Xi Jinping of China this week. He has previously accused China of carrying out unfair trade practices that hurt U.S. workers and has called for tariffs on Chinese goods.

The ChemChina-Syngenta deal was cleared by a U.S. national security panel last August, removing what had been seen as the biggest hurdle.

Leadership Outlook

If the deal is completed, ChemChina Chairman Ren Jianxin would become a head of a chemicals giant that sells products as varied as rubber tires, pesticides and genetically modified crop seeds.

Behind state-owned ChemChina’s pursuit of Syngenta are China’s ambitions for food security as a growing middle class consumes more grain-intensive meat and as farmland is converted to housing and golf courses. Syngenta would provide China with global access to farmers from Brazil to the U.K.

“Syngenta will stay Syngenta” and will keep its headquarters in Basel, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Erik Fyrwald, said in a Bloomberg interview last month.

He said that he expected to keep his job and that he had been told that ChemChina management wouldn’t be coming to Syngenta.

“We’re not integrating with ChemChina,” Fyrwald said. “There’ll be ChemChina members coming onto our board. The chairman will be Chairman Ren from ChemChina. But we fully expect to operate as we do today.”

Unit Disposals

To win EU approval, ChemChina will sell "a significant part" of its Adama unit’s pesticide business including fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and seed-treatment products, the EU said. It will also divest 29 of Adama’s generic pesticides under development and a part of Adama’s plant growth regulator for cereals, along with related assets and personnel.

Syngenta will divest some pesticides, including fungicides and herbicides. The sales "are not material to Syngenta," said spokesman Leandro Conti by telephone.

ChemChina’s offer for Syngenta was China’s biggest overseas deal announced last year, when Chinese companies disclosed an unprecedented $248 billion of acquisitions outside its borders, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. But late last year, Chinese authorities began scrutinizing cross-border transactions to help stem the yuan from weakening further.

— With assistance by Alice Baghdjian, and Stephanie Bodoni

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