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Tatas alone in fray for Highveld

After an intense battle of nerves, the world's cheapest steel-maker Tata seems to have outrun the world's biggest steel-maker Mittal.

india Updated: May 18, 2006 12:22 IST

After an intense battle of nerves, the world's cheapest steel-maker Tata seems to have outrun the world's biggest steel-maker Mittal in the race to acquire South Africa-based Highveld Vanadium and Steel.

Mittal Steel is understood to be close to shelving plans to acquire Highveld after its takeover plans failed to impress that country's Competitions Tribunal.

Lakshmi Niwas Mittal's well-drawn up plans to acquire Highveld to become the biggest steel-producer in the country did not go down well with the Tribunal, which brought "forth some procedural difficulties," informed sources said here.

The Indian-born steel baron is already under fire from the Tribunal for indulging in alleged unfair trade practices and is reportedly keen not to soil its image any more and hence was actively considering to pull out of the race.

"This leaves Tata Steel as the lone and major contender, albeit with another lesser-known South African firm in the fray, to acquire Highveld. Since the very beginning, the Tatas have been silently but meticulously making efforts to take on the Mittals," sources said.

"The issue is likely to dominate the Tata Board meeting in Mumbai tomorrow," they said and pointed out that a major decision on the matter by the Board could not be ruled out," Tata Steel sources said.

However, Tata executives were unavailable for comment prior to the Board meeting as a formal announcement was expected tomorrow.

Problems have been mounting for Mittal Steel as the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) has thoroughly opposed the "unfair dismissal" of their leaders and Chairperson in Mittal Steel.

NUMSA has alleged that Mittal has forced the union workers and its local chairpersons to take attractive retrenchment packages and were again re-employed as casual workers with no benefits and were also forced to surrender union leadership and even membership.

Mittal Steel is also reported to be contending with the South African taxmen who have rejected its objection to slapping a tax of $1.3 billion of Mittal Steel South Africa on payments to the parent company Mittal Steel, sources said.

However, these downturns have not weakened the company's resolve to invest nearly two billion Rands in the coming year as part of a nine-billion Rand expansion programme, they added.

First Published: May 17, 2006 17:07 IST