Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, the Bundeskartellamt, has imposed fines totaling around 154.6 million euros on seven pesticide wholesalers for entering into illegal, anticompetitive price-fixing arrangements.
According to information provided by the Bundeskartellamt, the pesticide wholesalers coordinated their price lists from 1998 to 2015. We at the commercial law firm MTR Rechtsanwälte can report that in doing so they stymied fair competition and violated competition law, more specifically antitrust law.
On January 13, 2020, the Bundeskartellamt announced that the seven wholesalers of pesticides had been coordinating price lists, discounts, and some individual prices. The cartel watchdog therefore imposed fines totaling approximately 154.6 million euros on the cartel members. Another company was exempt from the fines as the beneficiary of the leniency program for being the first to cooperate with the Bundeskartellamt. Two other companies remain the subject of ongoing investigations.
The investigations conducted by the Bundeskartellamt found that the wholesalers would coordinate their price lists every summer and autumn over a period of 17 years from 1998 to 2015. This resulted in price lists for retailers and consumers that were largely uniform. Moreover, it was reported that, particularly in the initial years of the cartel, sometimes virtually the only that was changed on the price lists was the company logo.
While in the initial years the cartel members met on a number of occasions for the purpose of coordinating list prices, these agreements would later be struck predominantly in writing or over the phone. The final price calculations were then communicated to the companies. There was also some coordination of planned discounts. The arrangements significantly stymied competition. It was only after the searches conducted by the Bundeskartellamt in March 2015 that these practices were brought to an end.
The cartel members chose to cooperate with the Bundeskartellamt. Six of the companies in question have already acknowledged the facts as revealed by the investigations. This was taken into account when setting the fines.
The price rigging measures clearly stymied competition and thus violated antitrust law. Yet violations of antitrust law are by no means always as obvious as in the case of illegal price rigging. Even individual contractual clauses can be anticompetitive and accordingly give rise to sanctions.
Lawyers with experience in the fields of competition and antitrust law can offer advice.