* Says would be "extraordinary" not to engage with Pfizer
* UK's open economy has benefited from foreign investment
* But science, jobs and manufacturing of national interest
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, May 10 Britain is ready for "hard
negotiation" to ensure Pfizer sticks to specific
promises on jobs and science under the U.S. drugmaker's proposed
takeover of AstraZeneca, its finance minister said.
"I think it would be extraordinary not to engage with
AstraZeneca or Pfizer," George Osborne told BBC radio on
He stressed Britain was an open economy that had benefited
"enormously" from past investment by foreign companies, such as
Tata Motors and Nissan in the car industry,
and AstraZeneca itself had grown by taking over foreign firms.
Although the country's second-biggest drugmaker AstraZeneca
has rejected a $106 billion approach from Pfizer in what would
be the largest foreign takeover of a British company, the U.S.
group is expected to continue its pursuit.
Osborne said there was there was "a lot of speculation about
another bid coming".
Pfizer is currently weighing its next move, which could be a
higher offer next week.
"We are an open economy, we benefit from that. But our
national economic interest when it comes to a very big takeover
like this is who's going to be providing the science and the
jobs and the manufacturing," Osborne said.
Pfizer's past record of cutting jobs after swallowing
smaller rivals such as Wyeth, Warner-Lambert and Pharmacia has
stirred up a political storm and fuelled concerns among
scientists about the impact of any deal on British science.
Pfizer has already given a five-year commitment to complete
AstraZeneca's new research centre in Cambridge, retain a factory
in the northwestern English town of Macclesfield and put a fifth
of its research staff in Britain if the deal goes ahead.
But the U.S. firm has also said it could adjust its promises
if circumstances change "significantly", prompting demands for
more water-tight pledges.
Osborne's comments follow a call by Deputy Minister Nick
Clegg on Friday for binding commitments from Pfizer.
"Pfizer have given assurances about the jobs they'd create
in Britain and the science they'd do in Britain. We have to make
sure those are real promises that we can hold them to," Osborne
"That's precisely what I'm doing and the Cabinet Secretary
(Jeremy Heywood) is doing in engaging with both these companies
... I'm prepared, on the specifics, to get in the room and have
a hard negotiation."
While most scientists, trade unions and the opposition
Labour Party have lined up against the Pfizer bid, business
leaders are worried that any political moves to stop it going
ahead could damage British interests.
"If the British government intervenes, it will send the
worst possible signal to global business and repudiate a
three-decade commitment to a free and open economy," Simon
Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, wrote in
an opinion piece in the Times newspaper on Saturday.
"It would invite retaliation from other countries where
British businesses have taken over major companies."
The British government has not ruled out the idea of
subjecting the Pfizer takeover plan to a formal "public interest
test", although competition lawyers believe the European
Commission would probably block any such attempted intervention.
(Editing by Tom Heneghan)