* Clearance conditional on elimination of some routes
* Creates world’s fourth-largest container shipper
* More consolidation could follow (Adds shipping industry source, details)
By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Hapag-Lloyd and Compania SudAmericana de Vapores will win conditional European Union approval for their merger that will create the world’s fourth-largest container shipping company, two people familiar with the matter said.
The tie-up is important for the shipping industry where consolidation could help it to overcome the worst slump on record. And if regulators take a soft line on any concessions required to allow the deal to proceed, this could spur more mergers in the industry.
EU approval hinges on the elimination of some overlapping routes between the consortia in which the companies are members. This would allay concerns that the deal could reduce competition, said the people who declined to be named because the EU decision is not yet public.
“It doesn’t mean business would have to be given up,” one of the people said.
Hapag-Lloyd is a member of the G6 alliance whose other members include APL, Hyundai Merchant Marine, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Nippon Yusen Kaisha and Orient Overseas Container Line and which operates on Asia-Europe and Mediterranean trade routes.
Vapores, majority-owned by the billionaire Luksic family, Chile’s richest, is a member of another smaller group.
A shipping industry source predicted more mergers in the pipeline, saying the Hapag-Lloyd and Vapores deal could be the benchmark.
“The container industry needs to keep its cost structure low but there is not much flexibility compared with other shipping segments like dry bulk where you can alter fuel consumption and change the way deals are done more easily.” the person said. “On that basis, we will see consolidation in the container market out of necessity.”
“This (deal) is going to be watched by their industry peers to see how it evolves from here.”
Hapag-Lloyd, the world’s No. 5 by capacity, is 22-percent owned by German travel group TUI AG. It tried but failed to do a deal with German peer Hamburg-Sued last year.
The European Commission is scheduled to decide on the merger by Sept. 11. Commission spokesman Antoine Colombani and Hapag-Lloyd declined to comment. Vapores also declined to comment.
The companies secured the green light from U.S. authorities last month. (Additional reporting by Jan Schwartz in Hamburg, Felipe Iturrieta in Santiago and Jonathan Saul in London; Editing by Jane Merriman)