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Deal struck in antitrust lawsuit

Published on January 3, 2013 3:01AM

Last changed on January 31, 2013 8:10AM

Fertilizer buyers to continue class action lawsuit against other potash makers


Capital Press

Two foreign fertilizer companies have agreed to turn over information about an alleged price-fixing cartel and pay nearly $13 million to settle an antitrust lawsuit over potash.

A federal judge recently granted preliminary approval for two deals that would end litigation between fertilizer buyers and the Russian potash companies, Uralkali and Silvinit, and their affiliates.

However, the fertilizer buyers will continue to pursue a class-action lawsuit against other major global potash producers who didn't sign on to the settlement, including Agrium, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan and the Mosaic Co.

Uralkali and Silvinit agreed to two settlement deals -- the companies will pay $10 million to farm suppliers who bought potash directly from them and $2.75 million to farmers and others who bought the product through middlemen.

A component of the latter deal with indirect buyers is an "agreement to cooperate," which means that Uralkali and Silvinit will "provide evidence regarding the liability of each remaining defendant in the litigation" and turn over "transactional documents" and other information, according to a court document.

The plaintiffs asked the judge to approve the deals because such "early settlements can serve as 'icebreaker' agreements, strengthening plaintiffs' hand in the litigation and encouraging future settlements," the document said.

Several fertilizer buyers have been pursuing the case against major global potash producers since 2008, claiming they restricted supplies to manipulate prices within the U.S.

About 85 percent of the potash used by U.S. farmers is brought in from overseas, mostly from Canada, Russia and Belarus. The fertilizer is a primary crop nutrient, alongside nitrogen and phosphate.

The lawsuit accused global potash producers of coordinating their mine and factory shutdowns to reduce supplies in China, India and Brazil, thereby inflating worldwide prices for the fertilizer to the detriment of U.S. buyers.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals initially threw out the fertilizer buyers' lawsuit in 2011 but then reversed its ruling in 2012, allowing the litigation to continue.

"Foreigners who want to earn money from the sale of goods or services in American markets should expect to have to comply with U.S. law," according to the 7th Circuit's ultimate decision.

The remaining defendants in the lawsuit recently asked a federal judge to dismiss the indirect buyers from the litigation because they lack legal standing to pursue the case under antitrust laws.

"Any possible injury to plaintiffs occurred in a market secondary to the alleged price-fixed market and occurred only after potash was transformed into a different product," the defendants said in a court document.


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