The European Union’s antitrust chief on Wednesday rejected a $6.9-billion deal for UPS to acquire Dutch delivery company TNT Express and said he was surprised the US group jettisoned the venture when there was still hope for a solution.
Antitrust commissioner Joaquin Almunia said that European businesses “would have been directly harmed’’ by the takeover “because it would have drastically reduced choice between providers and probably led to price increases”.
UPS had offered in March to buy TNT, Europe’s second-largest delivery company, to better compete with Europe’s largest, Deutsche Post’s DHL. UPS said that it had proposed “tangible remedies’’ but Almunia said they were “simply not enough”.
Sensing a likely rejection, UPS scrapped the acquisition on January 14, hitting the stock price of the Dutch company. The decision surprised Almunia, convinced there still was room to find a compromise.
“I have to confess that I was a little bit surprised because we still had time when they published this statement,’’ Almunia said. “We have experience that the final elements of a possible solution, a positive alternative, are not found the first day of negotiations but as close as possible to the last day of negotiations,’’ he said.
The Commission reviews major corporate mergers and acquisitions to ensure they do not hurt fair competition in the market. It has the power to block deals or to demand concessions, such as the sale of business parts, to safeguard market balance.
It only was the third merger that Almunia rejected out of some 800 cases since he became the EU’s competition commissioner in 2010. Yet is showed the power of the EU’s antitrust division in setting the conditions for multinationals to operate in the 27-nation bloc.
“UPS believes that the combined company would have been transformative for the logistics industry, bringing meaningful benefits to consumers and customers around the world, while supporting much needed growth in Europe in particular,’’ the company said.
Almunia disagreed. The EU found that it would have restricted competition in 15 member states, where the market would have been reduced to just 3 or 2 companies.