ArcelorMittal, commissioners move towards deal, agree to extend Ilva talks - lawyer

FILE PHOTO: A logo is seen on the roof of the ArcelorMittal steelworks headquarters in Ostrava, Czech Republic, April 1, 2016. REUTERS/David W Cerny

MILAN (Reuters) - ArcelorMittal MT.AS and commissioners of the Ilva steelworks have moved closer to a deal over the future of the ailing plant and have agreed to extend their talks, a lawyer representing the company said on Friday.

The world’s biggest steelmaker had tried to walk away from a 2018 deal to buy the site after parliament scrapped a guarantee of legal immunity from prosecution over environmental risks during a clean-up of the heavily polluting factory.

“There is an agreement that lays out the groundwork for negotiations that will continue until a deadline of Jan. 31 in order to reach a binding accord,” ArcelorMittal lawyer Ferdinando Emanuele told reporters.

A Milan court was scheduled to discuss on Friday a government bid to stop ArcelorMittal’s withdrawal from Europe’s biggest steel plant, but the hearing is now likely to be postponed to leave room for the negotiations.

Talks between the government and ArcelorMittal resumed in November after a meeting between Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and the company’s management.

On that occasion, Rome and ArcelorMittal agreed to develop a new industrial plan for the site that employs around 8.200 workers in Taranto, a city in Italy’s underdeveloped south.

In a separate legal case focusing on the death of a worker at the Taranto site in 2015, a court has ordered that one of the plant’s main blasting furnaces be shut down on the grounds that it does not comply with safety regulations.

The closure would reduce the site’s productive capacity and profitability, complicating efforts by the government to strike a new deal with Arcelor. The commissioners have appealed the ruling and a final decision is expected on Dec. 30.

Reporting by Emilio Parodi; writing by Angelo Amante, editing by Giulia Segreti and Crispian Balmer