February 12, 2020 / 7:35 PM / 10 days ago

Canadian court orders major agriculture firms to hand over documents in antitrust probe

OTTAWA, Feb 12 (Reuters) - A Canadian federal court has ordered a group of major agriculture companies to hand over records and communications as part of an antitrust probe sparked by allegations certain businesses tried to block online farm-supply startup Farmers Business Network Inc (FBN).

In a series of court orders dispatched on Tuesday, Canadian Federal Court Justice Denis Gascon said he was satisfied Canada’s Competition Bureau was conducting an antitrust probe and that the named companies - which include Bayer AG , Corteva Inc, and BASF - would have or were likely to have information relevant to the inquiry.

Farm supply wholesalers, including Cargill Inc, Univar Solutions Inc and Federated Co-Operatives Limited, have also been ordered to produce records. The companies have between 60 to 90 calendar days to comply, depending on the specific order.

Last week, the Canadian Competition Bureau confirmed an inquiry into certain agriculture companies was underway.

BASF, Corteva, Bayer and Cargill said on Thursday they would cooperate with the Competition Bureau’s investigation, which was launched following a complaint from California-based online retailer Farmers Business Network Inc (FBN)

The Competition Bureau had told the court in Jan. 30 filings that it was seeking records and communications from the seed, pesticide and wholesaling companies which are alleged to have stopped supplying FBN’s newly acquired Canadian business in 2018.

The alleged conduct by the agriculture companies under inquiry, the regulator told the court, may also impede or delay FBN’s successful expansion into the Canadian marketplace and/or cause the company to exit altogether.

Founded in 2014, Farmer’s Business Network is developing an online marketplace for farmers to order crop inputs like pesticides, seed and other agricultural supplies.

The company, which has been selling crop inputs through its e-commerce platform in the United States since 2016, entered Canada in November 2017. (Reporting by Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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