Judge says sugar company merger is legal in case involving United Sugars – Agweek

WILMINGTON, Delaware — A federal judge has ruled that mergers between sugar companies will not violate antitrust laws, a ruling with an impact on Red River Valley sugar beet co-ops.

US District Judge Maryellen Noreika of Delaware on Friday, Sept. 23, ruled in favor of United States Sugar Corporation in its bid to acquire Imperial Sugar Company.

The Department of Justice was suing to stop the deal, arguing that consolidation in the sugar business would be bad for consumers, especially those in the southeast US, where United States Sugar and Imperial refine cane sugar.

Also named in the lawsuit was Minnesota-based United Sugars Corp. United Sugars is a marketing partnership that includes United States Sugar, as well as three sugar beet cooperatives: American Crystal Sugar, based in Moorhead, Minnesota; Minn-Dak Farmers Co-op, based in Wahpeton, North Dakota; and Wyoming Sugar.

The US Sugar purchase includes a sugar refinery near the port city of Savannah, Georgia. US Sugar has said it will invest in the refinery, making it and the whole company more efficient. US Sugar attorneys argued that by acquiring Imperial’s retail brands, it will be able to offer products it currently cannot make at its Florida refinery, including brown and powdered sugar, and various sizes of bagged products.

“The people of US Sugar are pleased that today’s court ruling will allow our acquisition of Imperial Sugar to proceed as planned: enabling us to increase our sugar production, enhance the local Georgia economy and benefit our employees and customers.”

The judge’s ruling was not immediately made public to protect confidential trade information. The gave the parties until Sept. 29, 2022 to provide a redacted version of the ruling to become public.

Attorneys for the two sides made their arguments during a four-day bench trial in April. The judge then asked the attorneys to file briefs supporting their cases; Those were filed in late May.

Imperial Sugar is currently owned by Louis Dreyfus, an international agribusiness based in Holland. The Justice Department for its case cited an Imperial analysis describing US Sugar as a “close competitor,” and that the merger was clearly illegal. It added that, “The acquisition of even a less ‘effective’ competitor can still cause harm.”

The Justice Department also described competitors in the sugar industry as having “cozy” relationships.

US Sugar announced it would buy Imperial in March 2021. The Justice Department filed its lawsuit in the fall of 2021.


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