Glencore has entered exclusive talks to buy Viterra, the Canadian grain trader at the centre of a takeover battle, according to industry executives.

The Canadian group said on Monday that it had entered “exclusive discussions with a third party regarding the possible acquisition of Viterra”.

It declined to identify the other party but industry executives told the Financial Times that Glencore was the suitor. The London-listed commodities trading house, which is also attempting a $90bn merger with Xstrata, has joined forces on the bid with two Canadian companies, Agrium, a fertiliser producer, and Richardson International, a privately owned grain trader.

If the bid is successful, the companies plan to split Viterra into three parts, with Glencore taking the grain business, Agrium the retail fertiliser business and Richardson the food processing business.

The exclusive talks will come as a blow to other traders, including Archer Daniels Midland and Bungeof the US, which have been working on bids for Viterra.

The interest in the company, which is listed in Toronto, comes as the lucrative Canadian grain market, one of the largest in the world, opens to private sector competition for the first time since the second world war.

In a statement, Viterra said that the negotiations were based on a price “consistent with our previous statement”. Viterra referred to “reports speculating about …third parties’ expressions of interest of approximately C$16 per Viterra common share”.

Shares in Viterra edged 1.48 per cent lower to C$15.97, although they were still up about 45 per cent since the grain trader revealed that it was in talks over a possible bid 10 days ago. A C$16 a share bid would value the whole company at C$5.9bn ($6bn).

Glencore declined to comment while Viterra did not comment beyond its statement.

The acquisition of Viterra’s grain trading business would give Glencore a strong position in global wheat and barley export markets.

In addition to a 45 per cent share of the Canadian grain market, Viterra has significant operations in Australia, where it bought ABB, the Australian trader, for $1.2bn in 2009. Glencore already has a large presence in Australia and the Black Sea region.

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