On 18 February 2014, the German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) imposed fines of approximately EUR 280 million on following German sugar manufacturers for having participated in anticompetitive agreements on sales areas, quotas and prices:
Pfeifer & Langen GmbH & Co.KG
The infringements involved the sale of sugar for the processing industry (processing sugar) and sugar for the end consumer (household sugar). They took place over several years until the authority’s surprise inspections in spring 2009 and in part date back to the mid 1990ies.
According to the FCO, the sugar manufacturers formed a ‘territorial cartel’ and for many years agreed to generally limit their sales of sugar in Germany to their respective home sales areas. The aim of the agreements was to achieve the highest possible prices for sugar.
The cartel members by means of a ‘homogeneous customer and volume management’ also coordinated their activities regarding the EU Sugar Market Regulation, the Eastern enlargement of the Union, and changes in import-export flows. Central aspects of the agreements were the home market rule and the commitment not to get interfere other cartel members. The sugar producers also agreed to export overproduction rather than use the surplus to competitively increase their market share in Germany.
According to the FCO, the sugar cartel was not caused by the EU Sugar Market Regulation. In spite of the quota system and minimum price guarantees, competition for sales areas, customers and customer prices would still have been possible, but instead the cartel members used ‘the resulting high market transparency for coordination purposes and have further limited the residual competition.’
CDC has together with external experts conducted a first economic assessment of the damage caused by the German Sugar cartel. The assessment concludes that cartel-related price overcharges can be demonstrated and proved. It took into account the concrete limitation of competition as well as the peculiarities of the sugar market, in particular the provisions of the EU Sugar Market Regulation.
Based on the first economic damage assessment and several interviews with companies on various market levels, CDC has developed a comprehensive strategy to analyse damages caused by the Sugar cartel and to enforce corresponding claims. Having regard to the fact that the cartel had effects on several market levels, the concept includes the combined horizontal and vertical economic damage analysis, and eventual the bundling of claims.
The isolated damage analysis and enforcement of claims by an individual company is facing several difficulties. In particular, individual companies dispose only of their own sugar purchase data. However, individual data are often not sufficient to demonstrate market-wide price effects of the Sugar cartel and to allow for a robust damage analysis.
CDC is already cooperating with numerous companies of any size of the food industry as well as with retail companies. This concerns the damage assessment and potential further steps. With regard to a detailed damage analysis we are collecting and assessing the relevant sugar purchase data of all cooperating companies. CDC ensures strict confidentiality of sensitive company data through the involvement of a large German law firm.
- FCO Press release of 18/02/2014
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