Corporate watchdogs are urging President-elect Donald Trump not to be swayed by Bayer AG's (BAYN) promises of billions of R&D spending in the U.S. as one of the benefits of allowing the company to go ahead with its $57 billion deal to acquire Monsanto (MON) .
Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that Bayer CEO Werner Baumann and Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant talked up their merger plans when they met with the president-elect at Trump Tower last week.
The merger must be approved by the European Union and Trump's eventual appointees at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Spicer told reporters that the duo pledged to invest $8 billion in research and development in the U.S. over the next six years. Spicer also said Germany's Bayer had committed to maintaining 100% of Monsanto's 9,000-plus workforce in the U.S. and also would add at least 3,000 new jobs in genomics, robotics, satellite-imagery specialists, engineers and advance biotechnology. Spicer also said Monsanto's headquarters would remain in St. Louis.
A pitch like that isn't supposed to sway antitrust regulators at the DOJ, who ostensibly focus only on competition issues when deciding whether to approve a merger. Diana Moss, president of the American Antitrust Institute, a watchdog group promoting strong competition enforcement, criticized the meeting with Trump and the CEOs and similar tete-a-tetes hosted by the president-elect.
"Attempts by the incoming administration to broker merger deals or directly negotiate merger concessions signal a fundamental disregard for the law and for due process," said Moss, in a statement. "Every consumer, producer, competitor, and customer should be able to count on a fair, predictable and transparent process for government review of mergers. The end-runs that we are seeing in key mergers, such as Monsanto-Bayer, not only abuse the process, they imperil our markets, our economy and our society."
But Trump has put economic development and investment in the U.S. at the top of his agenda and it's unclear whether he will press his eventual antitrust appointees to deviate from their legal authority.
Monsanto shares have risen since Friday's close and during trading through the early afternoon Wednesday, it climbed to $108.27 from $107.65, largely occurring after Spicer's comments.
Although Monsanto had previously planned to allocate $8 billion for R&D and keep its headquarters in St. Louis, Spicer touted the numbers as a victory for the president-elect.
Trump has used his Twitter feed and other public comments to jawbone companies into doing his bidding-or at least make it appear they are falling into line. Carrier, a subsidiary of United Technologies (UTX - Get Report) , and Ford (F - Get Report) have been publicly shamed for plans to move jobs to Mexico. He also has attacked Boeing (BA - Get Report) for the costs of the new Air Force One now being designed. Trump later took credit for saving jobs and taxpayer money even though it's debatable how much will come to fruition.
And, like the supposed agreements with those companies, corporate watchdogs say Trump shouldn't let Monsanto and Bayer play his ego in return for what are likely to be ephemeral benefits to everyday Americans.
In fact, allowing the acquisition of Monsanto would tighten the grip big agriculture conglomerates have on farmers, whose choice of seed producers have dwindled due to mergers in the past decade, said the group SumOfUs, which is dedicated to checking the power of corporations.
"The proposed merger between Bayer and Monsanto is an existential threat to the American farmer, farmers around the world, and our global food supply" said Toni Preston, a campaigner for the group. "The proposed new mega corporation would be the world's largest seed maker and pesticide company, giving it unprecedented control over all aspects of our food supply - undermining consumer choice and the freedom and stability of America's farmers."
The deal also would give the merged company more power to snare market share for seeds that have been genetically modified to resist herbicides and pesticides, which the group argues are dangerous to the environment and the food supply. "This deal has the potential to usher in a new era of sterile crops soaked in deadly pesticides and President-elect Trump would be wise to recognize that this a bad deal for the American people," Preston said.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson, also called on Trump to reject the merger. "Today's announcement that President-elect Trump's transition team has struck a deal with Bayer and Monsanto is deeply disturbing if it leads to an approval of the Bayer-Monsanto acquisition by the incoming Trump administration," Johnson said Tuesday. "The touted benefits of these deals pale in comparison to the adverse effects family farmers and ranchers will face with continued mergers in the agriculture sector. Corporate consolidation in agriculture leads to less competition and choice in the marketplace and higher input costs for family farmers and ranchers."
Spicer's announcement about the companies' pledge also comes a week after a member of Trump's transition team called on the incoming administration to block the deal and two other mega-mergers pending in the seed-and-chemical industry--Dow Chemical's (DOW) planned $130 billion acquisition of DuPont (DD - Get Report) and China National Chemical's $46.3 billion bid to acquire Syngenta AG.
Bruce Rastetter, CEO and founder of Summit Agricultural Group, said in a news release that the mergers "threaten farmers worldwide" and "will limit competition, stifle innovative research and stunt job growth -- and will eventually lead to increased costs for farmers." Rastetter is a member of Trump's ag advisory team. However, Dow CEO Andrew Liveris also has Trump's ear as head of his Manufacturing Council.