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EU set to decide on Bayer-Monsanto merger in the first part of 2018

  • "We have a legal deadline that we have to meet," Vestager told CNBC on Monday, when asked if her decision could be delayed once again.
  • The proposed acquisition, valued above $60 billion, would make Bayer and Monsanto the world's largest integrated pesticides and seeds company.
Patricia de Melo Moreira | AFP | Getty Images

The European Commission is set to announce whether it approves the Bayer and Monsanto merger in the first part of this year, the EU's Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager told CNBC.

Brussels opened an in-depth investigation into the proposed acquisition of Monsanto by Bayer back in August of last year, but its decision on whether to approve the merger has been postponed twice and suspended four other times. It is currently scheduled to take place on April 5th – a deadline that Vestager wants to respect.

"We have a legal deadline that we have to meet," Vestager told CNBC on Monday, when asked if her decision could be delayed once again.

"When a decision is postponed, it's very often because the company gives us more time in order to discuss what remedies they have proposed in order to make our concerns go away," she said, adding that it is "very important that we are thorough, because it is for everyone, that food is well the most important thing, so for farmers to have a choice, affordable prices, not to be locked in with just one provider."

The proposed acquisition, valued above $60 billion, would make Bayer and Monsanto the world's largest integrated pesticides and seeds company. In August, the commission opened an in-depth investigation due to concerns that such a significant merger could distort competition in three areas: pesticides, seeds and traits (a characteristic of a plant).

Patrik Stollarz | AFP | Getty Images

The deal between the German and American companies has sparked criticism among environmentalists and farmers in Europe. The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems warned in a letter addressed to the EU in October that "if the current round of acquisitions continues as proposed, the three surviving entities will have substantially more than 60 percent of the combined world sales in both seeds and pesticides."

The Bayer and Monsanto merger is the latest of a trio of mega-deals in the agrochemical industry in the last years. The European Commission has given its greenlight to Dow's tie-up with DuPont and ChemChina's acquisition of Syngenta after long discussions and on the condition they would sell some of their business.

Bayer wasn't immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC. Media reports earlier this month suggested that Bayer had offered to sell some of its businesses to address the concerns raised by the European Commission.