US court throws out potash price-fixing lawsuit

CTV reports a US federal appeals court threw out an antitrust class-action lawsuit accusing seven companies of engaging in a global conspiracy to raise the price of potash since 2003 on the grounds that it could not rule on the alleged wrongful conduct on markets in India, China and Brazil.

The defendants included Agrium, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, Mosaic Co., and four companies that conduct mining operations in Russia and Belarus: Uralkali (pictured), Silvinit, Belarusian Potash and International Potash. Together the groups produce some 70% of the world’s potash.

CTV quotesStephen Shapiro, a partner at Mayer Brown who argued the case for the potash companies: “The court decided that the law requires dismissal because the complaint failed to allege any substantial or direct connection between the alleged conduct and the United States.”

Over the weekend reported disproportionate price increases of fertilizers are clearly playing out, with sales of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) falling 21.6% and muriate of potash (MOP) plunging 58% during the kharif (monsoon) planting season. The more than 50 million small farmers in India that depend on the soil nutrient have also had to contend with a weak rupee that caused domestic MOP prices to rise by as much as 91%.

India imports some 6 million tonnes of potash a year with current pricing around the $500/tonne level. Chinese and Indian consumption drove the potash price from $100/tonne in 2004 to almost $900/tonne in the run up to the 2008 recession when the boom went bust and prices rapidly fell back to $350/tonne.

Image of Russian miners inside a Uralkali potash mine courtesy of the company. Uralkali, which merged with Silvinit earlier this year to create a $24 billion giant and has a history dating back to 1925, mines potassium and magnesium deposits located in Berezniki, Perm and St. Petersburg Russia.

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