An apparent breakthrough has come in Sodiaal’s bid to buy fellow French dairy group Entremont Alliance with an agreement on the cheese maker’s debts, according to France’s agriculture minister.

During a speech at an international livestock trade fair in Rennes, agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire said Sodiaal and Entremont’s banks had reached “an agreement in principle”.

The reimbursement and restructuring of Entremont’s debts – which earlier this year were estimated at EUR335.6m – has been regularly cited as the principal sticking point in Sodiaal’s long-running bid to acquire the company.

When contacted by just-food, a spokesman for Sodiaal declined to confirm Le Maire’s claims and he was only prepared to say that negotiations were continuing. An Entremont spokesman declined to comment.

Le Maire has been one of the central figures in brokering a Sodiaal-Entermont tie-up, pledging from the outset “the support of the government” and defending the “balanced French model between private industry and co-operative” in the dairy sector. 

The minister did not say when a deal might be closed, saying that consultation with staff representatives on the proposed takeover had yet be completed.