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European Commission - Press release

Antitrust: Commission imposes € 8.9 million fine in banana cartel

Brussels, 12 October 2011 – In a decision adopted on Wednesday, the European Commission has concluded that the Chiquita and Pacific Fruit groups have operated a price fixing cartel in Southern Europe from July 2004 to April 2005, in violation of the EU antitrust rules' ban on cartels and restrictive business practices.

Because of this cartel, European consumers did not enjoy the benefits of undistorted competition for nearly a year.

For this infringement of EU law, the Commission imposed a fine of € 8 919 000 on Pacific Fruit. Chiquita received immunity from fines for providing the Commission with information about the cartel.

This is the second EU cartel decision in the banana sector. This time it affected consumers in Italy, Greece and Portugal. The first cartel, established in a decision of 2008, concerned Germany and seven other northern EU countries (see IP/08/1509).

"Companies need to be aware that the Commission takes its anti-cartel enforcement duties very seriously. There are only two ways to avoid a fine: refrain from joining a cartel or, if you have fallen for it, repent rapidly and inform the Commission about it" Commission Vice-President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said.

The cartel was operated by Pacific Fruit and Chiquita, two of the main importers and sellers of bananas in the EU. During the period July 2004–April 2005 they fixed weekly sales prices and exchanged price information in relation to their respective brands. By doing so, they directly harmed consumers in the countries concerned.

At the time of the infringement, annual banana sales in Italy, Greece and Portugal together amounted to an estimated €525 million.

Following the parties' replies to the Statement of Objections, sent in December 2009, the Commission reduced the proven duration of the infringement by around 9 months.

Backgroung

The Commission's investigation started with unannounced inspections in November 2007 (see MEMO/07/534).

In October 2008, the Commission fined Dole and Weichert €60 million for operating from 2000 to 2002 a price fixing cartel in eight northern EU Member States. Chiquita also participated in the cartel but then too was the first to inform the Commission (see IP/08/1509). The difference in the size of the fine then and now is explained by the much bigger size of the markets concerned, longer duration and three companies concerned in 2008 case.

The practices constitute a very serious infringement of Article 101 of the TFEU1 that prohibits cartels and restrictive business practices

The calculation of the fine was carried out in accordance with the Commission's 2006 Fines Guidelines (see IP/06/857 and MEMO/06/256).

Chiquita received full immunity under the Commission’s 2002 Leniency Programme (see IP/02/247 and MEMO/02/23).

Action for damages

Any person or firm affected by anti-competitive behaviour as described in this case may bring the matter before the courts of the Member States and seek damages. The case law of the Court and Council Regulation 1/2003 both confirm that in cases before national courts, a Commission decision is binding proof that the behaviour took place and was illegal. Even though the Commission has fined the companies concerned, damages may be awarded without these being reduced on account of the Commission fine. The Commission considers that meritorious claims for damages should be aimed at compensating, in a fair way, the victims of an infringement for the harm done. More information on antitrust damages actions, including the public consultation and a citizens' summary, is available at:

http://ec.europa.eu/comm/competition/antitrust/actionsdamages/documents.html

For more information on the Commission's action against cartels, see MEMO/10/290.

More information on this case will be available at: 39482 Exotic Fruit (Bananas)

For statistics on cartels, see:

http://ec.europa.eu/competition/cartels/statistics/statistics.pdf

Contacts :

Amelia Torres (+32 2 295 46 29)

Marisa Gonzalez Iglesias (+32 2 295 19 25)

Maria Madrid Pina (+32 2 295 45 30)

1 :

The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) is a result of the Lisbon Treaty that entered into force on 1 December 2009 and that amended previous European treaties.


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