ChemChina, Syngenta clinch US antitrust approval for US$43 bn deal
Biggest foreign acquisition by China one step closer to completion
China National Chemical Corp. (ChemChina) won US antitrust approval for its US$43 billion takeover of Swiss pesticide maker Syngenta AG, bringing China’s largest foreign acquisition one step closer to the finish line.
The US Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday that it was requiring the companies to divest three types of pesticides in the US as a condition for completing their deal. China’s antitrust authorities are also reviewing the proposed tie-up.
Both the US and the European Union took a close look at the deal, with the European Commission opening an in-depth investigation last year. It cited concerns that the transaction might lead to higher prices and reduced choice for crop protection products sold to farmers.
The EU has an April 18 deadline to end its review. The companies have said they expect to close their deal by the end of June.
The takeover, announced a year ago, is one of a trio of mega-deals that would reshape the global agrochemicals industry. Dow Chemical’s bid to merge with DuPont cleared its biggest hurdle last week when it won EU approval with hefty concessions. Bayer AG still needs approval for its purchase of Monsanto. The combined transactions would whittle down six industry players to three behemoths: one American, one German and one Chinese.
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 UK.
“Syngenta will stay Syngenta” and will keep its headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, the company’s chief executive officer, Erik Fyrwald, said in an 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 over 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.”
ChemChina’s offer for Syngenta was China’s biggest overseas deal announced last year, when Chinese companies disclosed an unprecedented US$248 billion of acquisitions outside its borders, data showed. But late last year, Chinese authorities began scrutinising cross-border transactions to help stem the yuan from weakening further.
The deal comes amid a wave of Chinese investment overseas, setting off concerns in the US. Chinese foreign direct investment in America reached a record US$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 US trade deficits with foreign countries ahead of a meeting with President Xi Jinping of China this week. He has previously accused China of carrying out unfair trade practises that hurt US workers and has called for tariffs on Chinese goods.
The ChemChina-Syngenta deal was cleared by a US national security panel last August, removing what had been seen as the biggest hurdle to the deal. The FTC has jurisdiction over the takeover because Syngenta sells its products in the US. The company got more than a quarter of its revenue in 2015 from seeds and crop protection in North America. The company also has several research and production facilities in the US.