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(Adds background on Merck auction)
By Arno Schuetze and Olivia Oran
FRANKFURT/NEW YORK, April 29 (Reuters) - Bayer AG is offering to swap its animal health assets for Merck & Co Inc's consumer healthcare business, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday, in a move that could give the German drugmaker a leg up in the $14 billion auction of the Merck business.
As part of its bid, Bayer has offered to pay the remainder of the acquisition price in cash, these people said, who asked not to be named because the matter is not public.
Bayer and Britain's Reckitt Benckiser Group are among the final contenders for the Merck unit, best known for Coppertone sunscreen and Claritin allergy medicine, Reuters reported last weekend.
Bayer's animal health business had net sales of 1.3 billion euros ($1.8 billion) in 2013, according to the company's website. Representatives for Bayer declined to comment and Merck did not respond to requests for comment.
Bayer's asset swap offer is yet another evidence of drugmakers' efforts to exit weaker businesses and focus resources on areas of strength.
Last week, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline Plc agreed to trade more than $20 billion worth of assets, with Eli Lilly and Co buying Novartis' animal health business for $5.4 billion.
However, asset swaps are often complicated and hard to value and there is no guarantee Bayer's offer will prevail over cash offers from rival suitors, people familiar with the matter said.
Merck's auction has also drawn interest from several other healthcare and consumer giants including Boehringer Ingelheim, Sanofi SA, Procter & Gamble Co and Novartis AG , Reuters previously reported.
A sale of Merck's consumer business could approach $14 billion with an outcome expected this week, sources said last week.
Reckitt confirmed on Monday it was in talks to buy the Merck unit. Bayer's Chief Executive Marijn Dekkers said on Monday during a conference call with analysts that OTC "is an important business for us."
Reckitt owns over-the-counter medicines, including Mucinex and Nurofen and the international rights for the Scholl foot care business. Germany's Bayer has a strong portfolio of consumer products, including pain medication Aleve and antacid Alka-Seltzer. (Reporting by Arno Scheutze in Frankfurt and Olivia Oran in New York,; additional reporting by Soyoung Kim in New York and Sophie Sassard in London; Editing by Leslie Adler and Phil Berlowitz)