The US authorities have cleared the way for the proposed joint venture between Jim Beam Brands (JBB) and owners of Absolut vodka Vin & Sprit (V&S) and the companies anticipate that joint distribution of their spirits and wine brands will begin in June.

JBB has announced that the $645 million deal is expected to close within the quarter after the waiting period for the US Federal Trade Commission review the transaction expired.

JBB owners Fortune Brands has previously announced that it expects the strategic partnership will increase its earnings per share by 6 to 8 cents in 2001 and by at least 20 to 25 cents per share in 2002 and beyond.

Under the agreement, JBB and V&S will create a joint venture for the US distribution of the companies' spirits and wine brands, including Absolut vodka, Jim Beam and Knob Creek Bourbon, DeKuyper cordials and Geyser Peak wines.

Upon closing, Vin & Sprit will pay $270m for access to the JBB distribution network and to acquire a 49% stake in the jointly owned US distribution subsidiary, Future Brands LLC. Vin & Sprit will also purchase a 10% equity interest in JBB Worldwide for $375m and will hold an option to increase its equity stake by up to an additional 9.9% over the next few years.

The companies expect that closing of the US partnership will coincide with closing of the related agreement under which V&S will invest 107m Euros ($121.5m) to become an equal partner in the Maxxium international distribution joint venture. JBB, Remy Cointreau and Highland Distillers established Maxxium in 1999.