REFILE-UPDATE 2-InVivo agrees Soufflet takeover in French farming mega-deal

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PARIS, May 3 (Reuters) - Cooperative group InVivo has agreed to acquire family-owned Soufflet in a deal potentially worth 2.3 billion euros ($2.76 billion), as the French rivals look to create one of Europe's biggest agricultural businesses.

The deal, which follows exclusive negotiations that began in January, will give rise to a group with some 10 billion euros in sales with activities from grain trading to wine distribution.

The takeover could be completed by the end of 2021, subject to regulatory clearance, InVivo and Soufflet said in a joint statement on Monday.

Financial terms were not disclosed in the statement and the companies later declined to give any financial details.

A source familiar with the transaction said the deal was worth about 2.3 billion euros.

InVivo has said previously its funds have been boosted by a share of around 1 billion euros from the sale of its animal nutrition unit Neovia to global agribusiness group Archer Daniels Midland two years ago.

Chief Executive Thierry Blandinieres said last week that InVivo has also called on traditional financial partners, without giving details.

The planned tie-up marks a new stage in Blandinieres' overhaul of InVivo, a grouping of 192 farmer-owned cooperatives.

He told reporters last week he wants the Soufflet takeover to be a step towards creating in the future a European giant able to compete with global crop merchants.

"This combination of two French groups of international standing will create a pillar of French food sovereignty," the statement said.

"The new entity will also be better positioned to face increased European and international competition."

The proposed tie-up was welcomed in January by French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire at a time when he opposed a move by Canada's Alimentation Couche-Tard for French retailer Carrefour.

The deal with InVivo heralds the end of the Soufflet family's control over the century-old grain group that bears its name.

The firm, which is to remain a separate business under InVivo's control, is focused on cereals through trading, flour milling and malt production.

InVivo's activities span grain trading, farm supplies, garden retail and wine distribution. ($1 = 0.8292 euros) (Reporting by Gus Trompiz, Sybille de La Hamaide and Gwenaelle Barzic Editing by David Evans and Steve Orlofsky)

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