Australian antitrust watchdog seeks views on Landmark-Ruralco deal

(Reuters) - Australia's competition regulator on Monday opened consultation on a proposed undertaking by Canada's Nutrien NTR.TO to sell three of its regional stores to address concerns over its takeover bid of rural services firm Ruralco RHL.AX.

Under the draft undertaking, Nutrien’s wholly owned unit Landmark would divest three rural merchandise stores located in Broome, Alice Springs and Hughenden to address antitrust concerns raised by the regulator.

Nutrien operates in Australia through Landmark, which is one of the country’s largest agricultural businesses. Its offer for Ruralco comes amid heightened global interest in the country’s agricultural sector.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Deputy Chair Mick Keogh said Nutrien’s undertaking addressed only local issues in the three areas and not possible broader issues.

“We are continuing to investigate the potential impact of this transaction at the national and wholesale levels,” Keogh said in a statement.

A final decision on the matter was expected by Aug. 15, the ACCC said.

In June, the regulator voiced concern that the deal between Landmark and Ruralco would create a heavyweight retailer in rural merchandise - the various agricultural products bought by farmers for operating a farm.

This could reduce wholesale competition and lead to discrimination against some independent retail stores, it said.In a separate statement, Ruralco continued to recommend the proposal to shareholders, and said it was confident that the issues raised by the ACCC could be addressed.

Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; editing by Richard Pullin