Violations dated back to 1990s, watchdog said

Violations dated back to 1990s, watchdog said

German sugar refiners Nordzucker, Pfeifer & Langen and Suedzucker have been fined a combined EUR280m for anti-competitive practices, including price fixing.

Germany's competition authority, the Bundeskartellamt, said the violations started in the mid-1990s and continued up until the start of its investigation in 2009.

The watchdog said the practices focused on sales, quotas and prices. It said the infringements involved the sale of sugar for the processing industry and sugar for the end consumer.

Suedzucker was issued with a fine worth EUR195.5m. Nordzucker said it had accepted a "seven-figure fine".

Andreas Mundt, president of the Bundeskartellamt, said the three companies formed a "territorial cartel" to limit their sales to their local regions in Germany, away from their rivals.

"The aim of the agreements between Nordzucker, Pfeifer & Langen and Südzucker was to achieve the highest possible prices for their sugar," Mundt said. 

"This type of co-ordination was not permitted under the European sugar market regulation. In spite of the quota system and minimum price guarantees, competition for sales areas, customers and customer prices is still possible in the sugar market and is also necessary to maintain functioning residual competition in order to protect customers against even greater distortion of competition in this sector."

He added: "The fined companies have used the European quota system, the minimum price guarantee and the resulting high market transparency for coordination purposes and have further limited the residual competition. The case is an expressive example of how extensive market regulation can help to restrict competition to the detriment of customers."

The Bundeskartellamt said industrial customers had told it the agreement between the three companies had led "to substantial price increases and to bottlenecks in the supply of sugar".

Nordzucker said it had "scrutinised all of its businesses processes" and added: "These processes do not just meet legal requirements, but are also fully in line with the company's compliance standards. Staff training and twice-yearly internal audits play a key role here. Nordzucker does not tolerate any anti-competitive practices whatsoever throughout the group and is a proponent of fair competition at both a domestic and an international level."