By Marcelo Teixeira
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - British oil major BP Plc and U.S. commodities trader Bunge Ltd announced on Monday the completion of a deal to combine their sugar and ethanol operations in Brazil, creating the world's second largest cane processor.
The 50-50 joint venture BP Bunge Bioenergia, which will manage 11 plants in five Brazilian states with a total capacity to crush 32 million tonnes of sugarcane per year, will rank only behind Raízen, the joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Brazilian energy group Cosan SA.
When the deal was announced back in July, the combined group was still holding a third position among the world's largest processors, but since then Biosev, the sugar and ethanol unit controlled by commodities trader Louis Dreyfus, reduced its crushing as it sold two mills in Brazil's northeast.
The completion of the deal means BP and Bunge obtained all the regulatory approvals needed. It allows both companies to put together staff and start to plan jointly for the next Brazilian sugarcane season that starts in April.
Brazil is finishing processing for the current season, with most mills already ending their cane crushing operations.
Bunge will receive cash proceeds of $775 million in the deal, of which $700 million is Bunge's debt that will be assumed by the JV.
Bunge said the non-recourse debt was arranged by a syndicate of banks led by Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, ABN Amro Bank NV and ING Bank NV. Brazil's Itaú BBA acted as financial advisor to Bunge, and Lefosse Advogados acted as legal counsel.
The new JV has a clear focus on ethanol, as demand for the biofuel in Brazil has grown for the last two years and a new federal program to boost biofuels use kicks off next year.
"Biofuels are an increasingly important component of a low carbon energy system," said in a statement Mario Lindenhayn, BP's biofuels head, which will become executive chairman of the venture.
Geovane Consul, former head of Bunge Açúcar e Bioenergia, will be the Chief Executive of BP Bunge Bioenergia. "We are positioning ourselves to support Brazil's increasing demand for low-carbon bioenergy," he said.
(Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Marguerita Choy)