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Nvidia takeover of ARM to be investigated

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced an investigation into a $40bn (£29.5bn) takeover of UK computer chip designer Arm Holdings.

US graphics chip specialist Nvidia agreed the deal to buy the company from Japan’s Softbank Group in September last year.

Britain’s competition watchdog has been scrutinising the sale, with the two companies expecting some action.

Arm technology is at the heart of most smartphones and other devices.

Its designs underpin processors made by Apple, Samsung, Sony and Huawei.

The CMA has invited “interested third parties” to comment on the impact the merger could have on competition in the UK.

Its formal investigation will begin later this year.

■ ARM: Can ‘crown jewel’ of UK technology be protected?

■ Arm’s sale could put tech sector ‘in jeopardy’

The CMA said it is likely to consider whether, following the takeover, Arm has an incentive to withdraw, raise prices or reduce the quality of its intellectual property licensing services to Nvidia’s rivals.

“The chip technology industry is worth billions, and critical to many of the products that we use most in our everyday lives,” said CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli.

“We will work closely with other competition authorities around the world to carefully consider the impact of the deal and ensure that it doesn’t ultimately result in consumers facing more expensive, or lower quality, products.”

Until now, the European Commission was responsible for most large and complex competition cases involving the UK.

The CMA has taken over these responsibilities following the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Its remit, by law, is to assess the potential impact of a merger on competition.

Last year, more than 2,000 business leaders signed an open letter calling on the prime minister to stop the merger, saying UK jobs and influence could be lost.

Nvidia has promised to keep the business based in the UK, to hire more staff, and to retain Arm’s brand.

It said that the deal would create “the premier computing company for the age of artificial intelligence”.

And the company added: “We believe the approval process will take about 18 months from when we signed the deal. The regulatory process is confidential and we won’t be providing comment on milestones along the way.”

When news emerged of the sale of what is probably the most significant British tech business of the last 30 years, there was widespread dismay with calls for the government to intervene.

But that was in 2016 when Japan’s SoftBank bought Arm.

The 2020 deal which saw SoftBank sell Arm to Nvidia was met in the UK with more of a resigned shrug – apart from the fierce opposition of the Cambridge-based business’s co-founder Hermann Hauser.

After all, what power could British regulators have over a deal involving a Japanese seller and an American buyer?

Nevertheless, the CMA has felt the need to step in, perhaps to lay down a marker now that the UK is outside the EU and it is free to flex its regulatory muscles.

This, however, is very much a first step which may not lead anywhere.

Nvidia will be more worried about other regulators around the world who may listen to its rivals’ complaints that, by taking over what was Arm’s neutral licensing platform, it will stifle competition in the chip market.

China, in particular, has already made clear that it isn’t happy about a deal which gives so much power to an American giant at a time when the US has sought to deny Chinese firms access to chip technology.

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A World Health Organization (WHO) team due to investigate the origins of Covid-19 in the city of Wuhan has been denied entry to China.

Two members were already en route, with the WHO saying the problem was a lack of visa clearances.

However, China has challenged this, saying details of the visit, including dates, were still being arranged.

The long-awaited probe was agreed upon by Beijing after many months of negotiations with the WHO.

The virus was first detected in Wuhan in late 2019, with the initial outbreak linked to a market.

WHO to investigate Covid origins in China’s Wuhan

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “very disappointed” that China had not yet finalised the permissions for the team’s arrivals “given that two members had already begun their journeys and others were not able to travel at the last minute”.

“I have been assured that China is speeding up the internal procedure for the earliest possible deployment,” he told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday, explaining that he had been in contact with senior Chinese officials to stress “that the mission is a priority for WHO and the international team”.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told the BBC “there might be some misunderstanding” and “there’s no need to read too much into it”.

“Chinese authorities are in close co-operation with WHO but there has been some minor outbreaks in multiple places around the world and many countries and regions are busy in their work preventing the virus and we are also working on this,” she said.

“Still we are supporting international co-operation and advancing internal preparations. We are in communication with the WHO and as far as I know with dates and arrangements we are still in discussions.”

The WHO has been working to send a 10-person team of international experts to China for months with the aim of probing the animal origin of the pandemic and exactly how the virus first crossed over to humans.

Last month it was announced that the investigation would begin in January 2021.

The two members of the international team that had already departed for China had set off early on Tuesday, said the WHO. According to Reuters news agency, WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan said one had turned back and one was in a third country.

Covid-19 was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in central Hubei province in late 2019.

It was initially believed the virus originated in a market selling exotic animals for meat. It was suggested that this was where the virus made the leap from animals to humans.

But the origins of the virus remain deeply contested. Some experts now believe the market may not have been the origin, and that it was instead only amplified there.

Some research has suggested that coronaviruses capable of infecting humans may have been circulating undetected in bats for decades. It is not known, however, what intermediate animal host transmitted the virus between bats and humans.