The European Commission welcomes today's judgment by the EU Court of Justice (EUCJ, case C-286/13 P) dismissing the appeal brought by banana importer Dole against a General Court (GC) judgment of 2013 (case T-588/08). The judgment entirely confirmed the Commission's assessment of the bananas cartel case in relation to Dole. It also confirms that communications between competitors leading to horizontal price-fixing through a cartel are anticompetitive by their very object and amount to a violation of EU antitrust rules, without requiring an analysis of their effect on competition in the market.
In October 2008, the Commission fined Dole, Weichert and Del Monte a total of €60.3 million for participating in a cartel for bananas in Northern Europe. The cartel members coordinated the setting of their quotation prices for bananas in eight EU Member States. Dole brought an action for annulment of the Commission's decision at the GC, which dismissed the appeal in March 2013. Dole appealed this decision to the EUCJ, which has now entirely confirmed the earlier GC ruling and thereby the Commission's 2008 decision.
The EUCJ agreed with the Commission that the cartelists' communications before setting the quotation prices for bananas reduced uncertainty for each of the participants as to the conduct of their competitors. This had the objective of creating competitive conditions that do not correspond to the normal conditions on the market without such collusive contacts, and therefore gave rise to a concerted practice between the companies with the object to restrict competition.
Joined Cases C‑293/13 P and C‑294/13 P Fresh Del Monte Produce, Inc. and Others concerning the same Commission decision are pending.
The Commission investigation started with surprise inspections in 2005, prompted by an application for immunity by Chiquita.
The Commission found that banana importers Chiquita, Dole and Weichert participated in a cartel between 2000 and 2002 in violation of Article 101 TFEU. The cartel members coordinated the setting of their quotation prices for bananas in eight EU Member States. At the time of the infringement, Weichert was trading mainly Del Monte branded bananas and was 80% owned by Del Monte. The cartel affected Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Sweden, where the combined retail value of bananas sold in 2002 amounted to around €2.5 billion.