GE in last-ditch EU talks over Honeywell deal

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The Independent Online

General Electric's chief executive, Jack Welch, yesterday met the European Competition Commissioner Mario Monti in a last-minute attempt to meet EU concerns about GE's $42bn (£30bn) takeover of Honeywell International.

The company has offered to sell $2.1bn of assets, which could include Honeywell's regional jet engine business and part of its avionics business. GE would also make promises about the future conduct of its aircraft leasing unit, Gecas, and has offered to appoint independent directors.

GE, which is the world's largest jet-engine maker, has until midnight to offer remedies to Brussels, which last month said it was worried the deal would impede competition in the aircraft engines and avionics market. The commission was also concerned that GE could use Gecas to help it compete unfairly.

Robert Zoellick, the US trade represenative who was in Brussels with President George Bush, also commented on the deal yesterday, saying that the United States "has a strong interest in fair treatment" of GE and Honeywell. The US Justice Department cleared the deal earlier this year.

Mr Welch has delayed his retirement to see the deal through, and the meetings are the culmination of his efforts to reach an accommodation with European competition authorities.

If Brussels and GE reach an agreement, the commission will then start a period of consultation with GE's competitors ­ which include the UK aeroengine maker Rolls-Royce, Pratt & Whitney of the US and the French defence group Thales ­ on the agreement's impact. Brussels' final ruling on the takeover is due by 12 July.

GE shares last night closed down 92 cents at $47.85.