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The Guardian reports that even if UK Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt receives a report from the Competition Commission next Monday recommending which companies should be allowed to bid for Safeway Plc, the nation's fourth largest food retailer, her goal of the end of September for making a final ruling is just an "administrative target" and could be further delayed.

The government is anxious to avoid any subsequent litigation after it makes its final decision, according to the story, and therefore plans to take its time to make sure that its ruling is both correct and legally unassailable.

The Competition Commission recommendation was to have been made this past Monday, but Wal-Mart's Asda Group made a last-ditch effort to make sure that it wouldn’t be denied the right to bid to acquire Safeway Plc. The company told the UK's Competition Commission that if it is cleared to make a bid, it would sell 100 of Safeway’s largest stores with the obvious candidate being family run William Morrison Supermarkets, although Asda has indicated that some of the outlets could also be sold to Tesco and Sainsbury.

Morrison has been considered by most observers to be the company most likely to be cleared to bid on Safeway; it is the fifth largest food retailer in the country, and by combining with Safeway, it is believed that they would create a more potent force to compete with the three top ranked retailers, Tesco, Asda, and Sainsbury, all of which also have applied to bid for Safeway.
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