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Agrium, Inc., and Union Oil Company of California and Unocal Corporation; Analysis To Aid Public Comment

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Federal Trade Commission.

ACTION:

Proposed Consent Agreement.

SUMMARY:

The consent agreement in this matter settles alleged violations of federal law prohibiting unfair or deceptive acts or practices or unfair methods of competition. The attached Analysis to Aid Comment describes both the allegations in the draft complaint that accompanies the consent agreement and the terms of the consent order—embodied in the consent agreement—that would settle these allegations.

DATES:

Comments must be received on or before October 30, 2000.

ADDRESSES:

Comments should be directed: FTC/Office of the Secretary, Room 159, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

John B. Kirkwood, FTC Northwest Region, 915 Second Avenue, Suite 2896, Seattle, Washington 98174, (206) 220-4484.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Pursuant to Section 6(f) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 38 Stat. 721, 15 U.S.C. 46, and Section 2.34 of the Commission's Rules of Practice (16 CFR 2.34), notice is hereby given that the above-captioned consent agreement containing a consent order to cease and desists, having been filed with and accepted subject to final approval, by the Commission, has been placed on the public record for a period of thirty (30) days. The following Analysis to Aid Public Comment describes the terms of the consent agreement, and the allegations in the complaint. An electronic copy of the full text of the consent agreement package can be obtained from the FTC Home page (for September 29, 2000), on the World Wide Web, at “http://www.ftc.gov/​os/​2000/​09/​index.htm. A paper copy can be obtained from the FTC Public Reference Room, Room H-130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580, either in person or by calling (202) 326-3627.

Public comment is invited. Comments should be directed to: FTC/Office of the Secretary, Room 159, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580. Two paper copies of each comment should be filed, and should be accompanied, if possible, by a 31/2 inch diskette containing an electronic copy of the comment. Such comments or views will be considered by the Commission and will be available for inspection and copying at its principal office in accordance with Section 4.9(b)(6)(ii) of the Commission's Rules of Practice (16 CFR 4.9(b)(6)(ii)).

Analysis of the Proposed Consent Order To Aid Public Comment

The Federal Trade Commission (“Commission”) has accepted for public comment an Agreement Containing Consent Order with Agrium, Inc. (“Agrium”) and Union Oil Company of California and Unocal Corp. (“Unocal”). The purpose of the agreement is to remedy the anticompetitive effects of Agrium's proposed acquisition of Unocal's nitrogen fertilizer business. The proposed order would require that Agrium divest assets that are integral to the sale of nitrogen fertilizers in the Northwest (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho).

Nitrogen fertilizers are used by farmers around the world to improve crop yields by supplying the nitrogen essential to plant growth. Agrium, with production facilities in Texas and near its headquarters in Alberta, Canada, is one of the world's largest producers of nitrogen fertilizers. In 1998, Agrium's wholesale sales of nitrogen fertilizers were $501 million. Unocal produces and sells nitrogen fertilizers through its subsidiaries Alaska Nitrogen Products LLC and Prodica LLC, which have production and distribution facilities in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California. Unocal's 1998 wholesale sales of nitrogen fertilizers were approximately $377 million.

Agrium and Unocal are the leading sellers of anhydrous ammonia, urea, and UAN 32% solution, which are the most popular nitrogen fertilizers in the Northwest. Substitution among these fertilizers, and between them and other nitrogen fertilizers, is limited because of agricultural considerations (they differ in their suitability for particular crops, soils, weather conditions, etc.) and commercial factors (e.g., each of these fertilizers requires different storage and application equipment). In the manufacture of an important resin, there is no substitute for urea.

The complaint alleges that Agrium's proposed acquisition of Unocal, if consummated, may substantially lessen competition in violation of Section 7 of the Clayton Act, as amended, 15 U.S.C. 18, and Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, as amended, 15 U.S.C. 45. The complaint identifies three relevant lines of commerce (product markets) in which to analyze the effects of this acquisition: urea, ammonia, and UAN 32%. The Relevant Section of the country (geographic market) alleged in the complaint is the Northwest, which consists of the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. In urea, Agrium's acquisition of Unocal would result in an increase in the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (commonly referred to as “HHI”) from 2200 to over 4800; in ammonia, the HHI rises from 1922 to over 4200; and in UAN 32% it rises from 1560 to over 3800. By eliminating competition between Agrium and Unocal, who are the top two suppliers of each of these products in the Northwest, the acquisition would enable Agrium to unilaterally increase the prices of ammonia, urea, and UAN 32% in that geographic market.

It is unlikely that the competition eliminated by the proposed acquisition would be replaced by new entry into the Northwest. The construction of a new nitrogen fertilizer plant to supply the Northwest appears to be uneconomic. One recent attempt at building a plant in the region was abandoned four years after it was first announced. Design, site selection, permitting and construction of a new plant to supply the Northwest would require considerably more than two years. Producers with plants in the Northwest cannot expand output because these plants are operating at capacity. Importers of offshore fertilizers are unlikely to ship significantly more Start Printed Page 59425to the Northwest because the transfer and storage terminals they need are either unavailable or more expensive to use than Unocal's Rivergate terminal. Midwest producers face obstacles to increasing shipments to the Northwest, including high transportation costs, commitments to local customers, the attractiveness of netbacks closer to their plants, and differences in seasonal demand that often make California a better market for their product.

The proposed consent order would require that Agrium divest Unocal's deepwater terminal at Rivergate, part of its upriver terminal at Hedges (containing urea storage and land for expansion and road access), and leases on three UAN terminals (including one with deepwater access) to J.R. Simplot Company. The order would also require Agrium to provide Simplot with a long-term lease on the ammonia storage at Hedges and perpetual access to the Hedges dock, roadway, rail spur and weight scales.

The Commission is preliminarily satisfied that Simplot is well qualified to reproduce Unocal's competitive role in the Northwest. Simplot is a $2.8 billion agribusiness that, among other things, produces, wholesales and retails nitrogen and other fertilizers around North America. It operates a large nitrogen fertilizer production facility in Manitoba, numerous phosphate plants, and a chain of retail outlets. In the Northwest, Simplot is a substantial source of phosphate fertilizers, but its wholesaling of nitrogen fertilizers is very limited. The proposed divestiture would enable Simplot to become a major wholesaler of nitrogen fertilizers in the Northwest.

The proposed order requires that respondents divest the specified assets to Simplot, in accordance with the agreement between Agrium and Simplot, immediately after Agrium acquires Unocal. If, at the time the Commission decides to make the proposed consent order final, the Commission notifies the respondents that Simplot is not an acceptable acquirer, or that the agreement with Simplot is not an acceptable manner of divestiture, the respondents must immediately rescind the transaction and divest those assets to an acceptable acquirer, and in an acceptable manner, within four months of the date the proposed consent order becomes final.

For a period of ten (10) years from the date the proposed order becomes final, respondents are required to provide written notice to the Commission prior to acquiring any interest in (1) any asset to be divested or (2) any terminal with deepwater access used in the transfer and storage of UAN 32 in the Northwest. These appear to be the only assets in the Northwest whose acquisition might substantially affect competition in the sale of the relevant products but not trigger a reporting obligation under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act. Respondents are required to provide to the Commission a report of compliance with the proposed order within thirty (30) days of the date the order becomes final every sixty (60) days thereafter until respondents have complied with the divestiture obligations. Respondents are also required to provide annual reports during the term of the order. For Agrium the term of the order would be ten years; for Unocal it would be until the assets to be divested are transferred to Agrium.

The Agreement Containing Consent Order has been placed on the public record for thirty (30) days for receipt of comments by interested persons. Comments received during this period will become part of the public record. After thirty (30) days, the Commission will again review the proposed order and the comments received and will decide whether it should withdraw from the order or make it final. By accepting the proposed order subject to final approval, the Commission anticipates that the competitive problems alleged in the complaint will be resolved. The purpose of this analysis is to invite public comment on the proposed order, including the specified divestitures, to aid the Commission in its determination of whether it should make the order final. This analysis is not intended to constitute an official interpretation of the proposed order, nor is it intended to modify the terms of the order in any way.

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By direction of the Commission, Commissioner Swindle not participating.

Donald S. Clark,

Secretary.

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[FR Doc. 00-25570 Filed 10-4-00; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 6750-01-M