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MEMO/03/33

Brussels, 13 February 2003

Statement on inspections at producers of heat stabilisers as well as impact modifiers and processing aids - International cooperation on inspections

Following press inquiries, the European Commission's spokesperson for competition has confirmed that on 12 February 2003, a number of Commission inspectors assisted by officials of the Member States concerned have carried out dawn raids at the premises of 14 European companies located in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and United Kingdom. The inspections cover two proceedings, the first relating to heat stabilisers and the second to impact modifiers and processing aids.

The purpose of these inspections is to ascertain whether there is evidence of a cartel agreement and related illegal practices concerning price fixing and market sharing for these products.

Heat stabilisers are materials added to protect resins from thermal degradation and to enhance the flexibility and stability of the end PVC (polyvinyl chloride) product. Although heat stabilisers are used in a number of resin systems, PVC accounts for the great majority of their use. They are also used for the production of drinking water pipes, window profiles, food packaging, etc.

Impact modifiers and processing aids are part of the group of plastic additives. Impact modifiers are formulated into plastics to improve the resistance of the finished product to stress. Rigid PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is one of the largest target markets for impact modifiers. Processing aids are materials added to improve the processing characteristics of PVC.

These inspections have been carried out simultaneously by the American, Japanese and Canadian antitrust authorities. In particular, the European Commission, the US Department of Justice, the Japan Fair Trade Commission and the Canadian Competition Bureau coordinated for the first time all together surprise inspections into these two suspected cartels operating worldwide.

International cooperation is a high priority area of the European Commission in the field of anti-cartel policy. The issue of competition today is becoming increasingly global and companies along with their business strategies have long outgrown the individual state or indeed the territory of the European Union. The great majority of the cartels we deal with today are international. It is critical, therefore, that competition policy is formulated in a way that enables the European Union to apply competition rules effectively throughout the world.

Surprise inspections are a preliminary step in investigations into suspected cartels. The fact that the European Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. The European Commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings.

There is no strict deadline to complete cartel inquiries. Their duration is determined largely by the complexity of each case, the exercise of the rights of defence and by the observance of the Commission's consultation and other procedures.


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