(Adds Chiquita, Fyffes, antitrust lawyer comments)
By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS, Sept 16 (Reuters) - U.S. fruit producer Chiquita Brands and Irish peer Fyffes have offered European Union antitrust regulators concessions that the companies say should secure clearance for their proposed $526 million tie-up.
The proposed deal announced in March would create a business with 14 percent of the $7 billion global banana market, making it the world’s biggest banana supplier, giving it significant power in negotiations with retailers.
The companies submitted proposals last week, the European Commission said on its website on Tuesday. The EU competition watchdog, which did not provide details of the submissions, extended the deadline for its decision to Oct. 3 from Sept. 19.
The companies did not publish details of the concessions offered but said they would not have a material impact on the commercial rationale for the merger.
“While there can be no assurances, Chiquita and Fyffes remain of the view that there is a good prospect that their proposed transaction can be cleared by the European Commission during its Phase I review,” the companies said in a joint statement.
Typcial concessions could include divesting businesses with significant overlaps in countries such as Britain and Ireland, selling import licences or deals with local ripeners, one antitrust lawyer said.
The Commission can either accept the concessions, demand more or open a lengthy investigation that could take up to five months.
Safra Group, the banking and investment behemoth, and Brazilian juice maker Grupo Cutrale, which are also eyeing Chiquita, said their joint $611 million unsolicited takeover bid would not have attracted regulatory attention.
“Cutrale-Safra is focused on due diligence with respect to its superior proposal and, unlike the proposed Fyffes’ transaction, does not foresee any potential regulatory stumbling blocks associated with a Cutrale-Safra acquisition of Chiquita,” Cutralie-Safra spokesman Robert Siegfried said.
Chiquita last week postponed a shareholder vote on the Fyffes deal so it could hold talks with Cutrale and Safra.
Chiquita and Fyffes compete with Fresh Del Monte and Hawaii-founded Dole Food Company. (Additional reporting by Bangalore Newsroom and Gregory Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Louise Heavens and David Goodman)