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Cheese wars loom as Italy tries to fight off French Parmalat bid

Reuters/Daniele La Monaca

Italy’s government is trying to stop French cheesemaker Lactalis effectively taking over the giant Parmalat dairy company. The move comes amid concerns over French capital’s increasing inroads into Italian business.

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A decree has been drawn up to allow Parmalat to postpone its annual general meeting, due to take place on 12-14 April, the government said after meeting Wednesday morning.

The move aims to enable the creation of a coalition of Italian companies – possibly including Intesa-San Paolo bank and Fererro, the make of Nutella and Kinder chocolate eggs - to prevent an effective takeover.

Lactalis announced on Tuesday that it had reached a deal to increase its stake in Parmalat to 29 per cent, making it the largest shareholder.

Ministers had already threatened to take measures to keep Parmalat Italian after Lactalis took 11.42 per cent last week.

The French company bought most of its stake from investors from Sweden, Norway and Canada who had been trying to sack Parmalat’s board.

On Tuesday Italy’s tax authority said that it would check that tax is paid in Italy on the sales purchase, as well as French luxury goods company LVMH’s purchase of Bulgari.

Parmalat collapsed in 2003 due to financial fraud by founder Calisto Tanzo and rescued in an intervention ordered by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Italy is considering copying a French initiative in January when 11 committees were set up to monitor core industrial sectors, ranging from carmaking to luxury goods.

French companies have more shareholdings in Italy than those of any other company. They include stakes in luxury group Gucci, banks Mediobanca and BNL, insurer Generali, national carrier Alitalia and another dairy company, Galbani.

And there are moves to take more, including:

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