In a move that could trigger a trade row between Tokyo and London, the board of International Digital Communications Inc. voted Thursday in favor of a takeover bid by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. over one by Britain’s Cable & Wireless PLC.
IDC, an international phone call carrier set up in 1986 by a consortium which includes C&W, said its board recommended that IDC’s 140 or so shareholders sell their stocks to NTT.
The decision was reached at a 4 1/2-hour-long extraordinary board meeting during which directors examined takeover bids by NTT, the country’s largest telecommunications carrier, and C&W, according to IDC officials.
IDC did not disclose the terms of NTT’s bid, but sources close to the company said the domestic telecommunications giant is offering a better price and has pledged not to fire any IDC employees after the buyout.
C&W is a major shareholder in IDC, with a 17.69 percent stake.
IDC now plans to promptly recommend that its shareholders accept NTT’s proposal, an IDC spokesman said. The firm needs to gain the consent of shareholders at a general meeting before the bid can go through.
Among other major shareholders in IDC are Toyota Motor Corp. and Itochu Corp., both of which hold 17.69 percent stakes. IDC has about 140 corporate shareholders.
Following news of IDC’s decision, Toyota expressed its intention to open talks with NTT on selling its IDC stake to the telecommunication giant.
“We aim to avoid overlapping investments (in international telecommunications) and unite our businesses,” a Toyota executive in Nagoya said.
However, C&W has expressed its intention of effectively blocking NTT’s bid, saying that NTT’s acquisition would rob a foreign carrier of a business opportunity in the Japanese telecom market.
Telecom deregulation has been ongoing in Japan since IDC was set up as an international service carrier in 1986, and the intensifying competition is making it difficult for the firm to survive on its own.
IDC has been in a business tieup with an NTT affiliate since last year.
For NTT, the proposed buyout of IDC would enable it to save time in preparing for the launch of international services by giving it IDC’s manpower resources and client base.
In signs that the battle between NTT and C&W could develop into a full-blown trade row, a British newspaper reported Thursday that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has intervened on behalf of C&W.
The Independent said Blair is understood to have complained to the Japanese government about a move by NTT to take a controlling stake in IDC.
U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky is also thought to have joined the debate, the paper said.
A spokesman at the Prime Minister’s Office in London said he is unable to confirm whether Blair lodged a complaint with the Japanese government.