UPDATE 1-Suitors eyeing CWB but too soon for takeover -Canada ag minister
* CWB was one of biggest wheat traders, loses monopoly
* Prized for global marketing contacts
By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba, July 31 (Reuters) - Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said on Tuesday he is aware of interest from "a couple of entities" in taking over the CWB, just as the company previously known as the Canadian Wheat Board tries to survive without its long-held grain monopoly.
"We've already had a couple of entities come forward saying they would love to buy up the CWB already," Ritz said at a news conference to mark the last day of the CWB's 69-year-old grain marketing monopoly in Western Canada. "They have a tremendous Rolodex of marketing (contacts) around the world and (prospective buyers) wanted to capture that."
But Ritz said it is too soon to consider a takeover of the CWB, which will give up its marketing monopoly on the region's wheat and barley sales for export or human consumption on Wednesday, under Canadian law.
"We're not prepared to entertain that takeover that quickly."
He did not say if the suitors approached the Canadian government, which controls the CWB, or the CWB itself.
The CWB does not own any grain storage or transportation assets, however, it has long been one of the world's biggest wheat traders. In 2011/12, the last year of its government-granted monopoly, CWB exported 18.1 million tonnes of wheat and barley combined.
Earlier on Tuesday, CWB's Chief Executive Ian White said the company sees a bright future but did not offer details of its plans or suggest there was takeover interest.
A sale of the Winnipeg-based CWB would mirror the fate of the former Australian Wheat Board, which gave up its wheat monopoly in 2008 and was later bought by Cargill Inc.
Canada's biggest grain handler, Viterra Inc, will be taken over by Glencore International PLC this year, pending regulator approval.
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