Hutchison says EU antitrust talks on UK deal 'fruitful'

BRUSSELS - CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd said it had "fruitful" talks with EU regulators at a hearing on Monday aimed at dispelling antitrust concerns over its plan to become the top UK mobile operator by buying Telefonica's TEF.MC O2 unit.

The deal is crucial to Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing’s plan to expand Hutchison’s telecoms footprint across Europe and follows two other takeovers in recent years.

The company set out its arguments at a closed door hearing on why the European Commission should approve the deal without demanding too many tough concessions.

“Today’s hearing has given CKHH the opportunity to have another fruitful exchange with the Commission and the Member States’ representatives concerning its proposed acquisition of O2 in the UK,” Hutchison said in a statement.

Participants at the event included senior Commission officials, national competition agencies and executives from British pay TV company Sky SKYB.L, Liberty Global LBTYA.O, TalkTalk TALK.L, Vodafone VOD.L, BT BT.L and Tesco Telecom, according to people familiar with the matter.

British consumer electricals and mobile phone retailer Dixons Carphone DC.L and French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel's Iliad ILD.PA, which is also eyeing the British market, were also present.

UKB Networks and Gamma completed the list of rivals which could scoop up any assets Hutchison may have to divest in return for EU regulatory approval. The company submitted a package of concessions last week, but did not provide details.

The deal, which will cut the number of British mobile network operators from four to three, has already triggered regulatory concerns after other similar mergers resulted in price hikes.

Hutchison’s biggest hurdle is its network sharing agreement with BT’s newly acquired mobile operator EE and Telefonica’s mobile towers sharing deal with Vodafone, according to analysts.

($1 = 0.7010 pounds)