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UPDATE 1-Syngenta agrichemicals foresees growth as trade tensions ease

John Miller

* Stock market flotation expected

* CEO says new group can tackle climate change impact

* 2019 sales, profit around flat (Updates after results presentation, adds detail)

ZURICH, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Syngenta, the Swiss agrichemicals giant bought by ChemChina, said on Friday it would return to revenue growth this year after a stagnant 2019 that it blamed on U.S. flooding and droughts in Australia.

Sales picked up in the second half of last year and the company predicted a low-to-mid single digit revenue rise for 2020, helped by above-market growth in China.

The company said it reopened Chinese plants this week that had been closed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Full-year profit was barely changed at $1.45 billion, the Basel-based company said in a statement.

Sales were flat at $13.6 billion after extreme weather dented agricultural demand.

But the full year was an improvement on the 7% first-half drop as Latin American and Asian farmers bought more seeds and chemicals.

The 2019 results release precedes a stock market flotation planned by the end of the year that will include Syngenta, sources have told Reuters, following ChemChina's $43 billion takeover deal in 2017.

TRADE DETENTE?

Syngenta said Latin American growth is normalising as trade tensions ease. In August, Mexican tomato producers struck an agreement with the Trump administration to avert an anti-dumping investigation and remedy a tariff dispute.

And in January, the United States and China signed an initial trade deal to roll back some tariffs and boost Chinese purchases of U.S. products, although unresolved issues linger.

"We are optimistic that the recent phase-1 agreement will be good for U.S. and Chinese farmers, providing access to an important market for U.S. produce, and the technology that China needs to continue to modernise its agriculture," a Syngenta spokesman said.

China National Chemical Corp., or ChemChina, and Sinochem in January consolidated their agricultural assets into a new holding company called Syngenta Group.

Environmental campaigners have protested against Syngenta and other agrichemical groups, but Syngenta Chief Executive Erik Fyrwald said the enlarged group would be better placed to deal with the impact of climate change.

"This further strengthens our ability to serve farmers all across the world with innovation for more sustainable agriculture to help deal with weather extremes," Fyrwald said.

As the coronavirus took hold in China, Syngenta had to close its two Chinese plants, but re-opened them on Feb. 10 and sales people are responding to ongoing travel restrictions by connecting to customers via social media.

"Clearly, the longer the coronavirus situation persists, the greater the likelihood of it having an impact," the company said. "However, other than some logistical challenges it has not caused issues for our business." (Reporting by John Miller; editing by Barbara Lewis)