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US gives OK to Chinese takeover of Syngenta

BEIJING—US regulators have agreed to a Chinese conglomerate’s proposed $43-billion acquisition of Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta, on condition it sells some businesses to satisfy antimonopoly objections.

The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) announcement follows approval last year by European regulators of the purchase by state-owned ChemChina. It would be China’s biggest foreign acquisition to date.

ChemChina, also known as China National Chemical Corp., agreed to sell businesses that make an herbicide, an insecticide and a fungicide whose combined market shares with Syngenta would cause “significant competitive harm”, an FTC statement said on Tuesday.

Chinese companies are engaged in a multibillion-dollar global buying spree to acquire technology and brands to improve their competitive edge, as explosive growth in their home economy slows.

At the same time, the global industry that supplies farm chemicals, biotechnology and other inputs is in the midst of a shake-up, as tumbling commodity prices squeeze spending by farmers.

A US government national security panel approved the ChemChina-Syngenta tie-up last August, despite complaints by some legislators who cited the potential for “risks to our food system”.

ChemChina subsidiary Adama Agricultural Solutions Ltd. agreed to sell businesses in the US producing the herbicide paraquat, the insecticide abamectin and the fungicide chlorothalonil to American Vanguard Corp. and its affiliate, Amvac Chemical Corp.

The FTC said Syngenta owns branded versions of all three chemicals, while Adama is the No. 1 or 2 supplier of generic versions in the US.

ChemChina Chairman Ren Jianxin has said he hopes to expand Syngenta’s presence in China and other emerging markets.

Ren is China’s most aggressive global dealmaker and has spent more than $60 billion on acquisitions since 2010. They include Italian tire brand Pirelli, Norwegian chemical supplier Elkem and KraussMaffei, a German industrial machinery maker.

Almost all proposed Chinese acquisitions of US assets have been approved by regulators. Still, mergers consultants say the prospect of undergoing a security review has put off some potential buyers, making acquisitions in Europe and other markets look more attractive.

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