SOUTH AFRICA – The South African leg of Anheuser-Busch InBev’s (AB InBev’s) takeover bid for SABMiller may be completed sooner than initially expected.

The Competition Commission believes it is on target to meet the extended April 5 deadline for the completion of its inquiry into AB InBev’s proposed acquisition of SABMiller.

Assuming no last-minute interventions, that the commission approves the deal and there are no unexpected disputes at the Competition Tribunal, it is possible SA’s competition authorities will have completed consideration of the $108bn transaction by the end of May.

Hitting the April 5 deadline (the transaction was lodged with the commission on December 14) would be a considerable achievement for the commission, given the size and profile of the transaction.

Although there are no major competition issues, the merger does raise some public interest concerns.

Tembinkosi Bonakele, the competition commissioner, said it was normal to have multiple extensions in large mergers.

“This phase of the timetable is not entirely in the commission’s control, as we’re required to get input from all stakeholders affected by the transaction, but I expect our team will be able to finish by the April 5 deadline.”

Apart from the minister of economic development (who has not indicated if he will be intervening), unions, customers, and firms in the supply chain have an opportunity to provide input.

In recognition of the importance of the trade unions’ role in the commission’s investigation and the tribunal’s consideration, AB InBev has been in discussions with the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Fawu), which represents the largest number of SABMiller employees.

Katishi Masemola, general secretary of Fawu, would not comment on details of the discussions held last week, but did describe them as “constructive”. He noted that there were a number of issues that needed to be resolved.

Job security and employment conditions are likely to be high on Fawu’s agenda.

The commission has been given one 15-day extension and a second 10-day extension to the initial 40 days it has, in terms of the Competition Act, to investigate a merger.

The extensions are granted by the tribunal, and although approval from the merging parties is not required, they are usually consulted on the matter.

SABMiller and AB InBev have indicated they would oppose a third extension.

They will be particularly keen to avoid the fate of the proposed restructuring of a large chunk of Coca-Cola’s African bottling operations.

That deal was announced by SABMiller in November 2014 and was referred to the tribunal only last month. It has been conditionally approved by the commission, but some matters of dispute with the minister could delay the tribunal’s consideration of the deal.

At the weekend, an AB InBev spokesperson said on the deal: “We are confident the Competition Commission is as committed as we are to ensuring SA does not delay the timetable for clearing the combination.”

The group is believed to be targeting a July deadline for completion of the regulatory requirements in the major markets of the US, China, Europe and SA. The deal is conditional on approval in these markets.

AB InBev said it understands the commission is working hard to get interested stakeholders to make their submissions.

“We hope there will be no unnecessary delays in SA, particularly as it is accepted that there are no competition issues, and given our engagement with stakeholders on various public interest considerations.”

March 22, 2016;