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Grain giant Bunge to buy 49% of BZ Group to boost French exports

By Gus Trompiz and Sybille de La Hamaide

PARIS, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Global commodities merchant Bunge will buy 49% of French grain handler BZ Group in a move that will reinforce Bunge's presence in the port of Rouen, the largest cereal export terminal in Western Europe.

BZ Group collects about 575,000 tonnes of grains, oilseeds and pulses annually in northwest France and handles about 1.5 million tonnes of agricultural commodities per year through its Rouen export terminal.

The deal with U.S.-based Bunge will see the Beuzelin family maintain control of BZ Group with a 51% majority stake.

The companies said in a statement on Tuesday that the tie-up would build on a "strong relationship over the years", adding that "it will also provide the opportunity to expand the facility in the port terminal in Rouen."

Bunge, one of the world's largest agricultural commodity merchants, already exports through Rouen, as well as nine other ports in France, including large export hubs Dunkirk, Montoir and La Pallice.

French traders said the announcement was not surprising given Bunge's extensive use of BZ Group to source export cargoes, and highlighted the international trader's interest in France amid uncertainty over access to Black Sea grain.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine this year along with Moscow's use of a grain export tax in recent seasons have cooled interest from foreign traders in the world's biggest wheat exporting country.

"Bunge investing in Beuzelin (BZ Group) means it is reinforcing itself in the EU and that's good news," one trader said. "Russia's export tax has put off quite a lot of market players."

A spokesperson for BZ Group said "the geopolitical context has underscored the attractiveness of France and Rouen".

It was too early to give details about a potential Rouen expansion, the spokesperson said, also declining to disclose the value of the transaction.

The agreement, which is subject to regulatory approval and will see an older generation of the Beuzelin family exit the firm, would not entail Bunge having exclusive rights or reserved volumes in BZ's port silo, the spokesperson added.

Bunge did not immediately respond to a request for details.

The multinational firm is a major importer of oilseed meals for animal nutrition in France and has a crushing factory in Brittany, in the western part of the country which makes vegetable oil used in biofuels.

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, Gus Trompiz and Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Bernadette Baum)

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