The European Commission has issued Statement of Objections to six companies in Farmed Atlantic Salmon Cartel Case
The European Commission has taken a decisive step in its ongoing investigation into alleged anticompetitive practices within the market for spot sales of Norwegian farmed Atlantic salmon in the European Union.
Six prominent Norwegian salmon producers – Cermaq, Grieg Seafood, Bremnes, Lerøy, Mowi, and SalMar – have been served with a Statement of Objections, outlining the Commission’s preliminary view that they breached EU antitrust rules.
The Commission’s concerns revolve around the suspected collusion among the six companies between 2011 and 2019, during which they are believed to have exchanged commercially sensitive information. This information encompassed sales prices, available volumes, sales volumes, production volumes, production capacities, and other price-setting factors. The alleged objective of this conduct was to distort competition in the market for spot sales of Norwegian farmed Atlantic salmon in the EU, with a focus on reducing normal market uncertainties.
It is important to note that the alleged anticompetitive conduct is specific to spot sales into the EU and does not extend to sales based on long-term contracts. Spot sales involve agreements on prices, volumes, and other sales conditions per sale, determined by market conditions on the day of the transaction.
Norway, contributing over half of the global production of farmed Atlantic salmon, holds a significant position in the market. The EU, being the primary importer, is directly affected by the alleged conduct. The focus of the case is on fresh, whole, and gutted Atlantic salmon farmed in Norway, which constitutes nearly 80% of all farmed Atlantic salmon exported from the country. Notably, the alleged conduct excludes frozen farmed Atlantic salmon or processed products such as fillets, loins, or smoked salmon.
If the Commission’s preliminary view is substantiated, the companies would be in violation of Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‘TFEU’), which prohibits cartels and other restrictive business practices. However, the issuance of a Statement of Objections is not a prejudgment of the investigation’s final outcome.
The investigation, initiated following information from various market players, included inspections in February 2019 as part of an ‘ex-officio’ inquiry. A Statement of Objections is a formal step in the Commission’s investigations, giving the concerned parties an opportunity to respond, examine documents in the investigation file, and request an oral hearing.
Potential consequences of the investigation could result in a decision by the Commission to prohibit the alleged conduct and impose fines of up to 10% of a company’s annual worldwide turnover, pending sufficient evidence of infringement. There is no fixed timeline for completing antitrust inquiries, and the duration depends on various factors.
The Commission has a history of investigating cartels within the agri-food sector, having previously fined suppliers of bananas, exotic fruit, canned mushrooms, and canned vegetables. For more detailed information on this case, the public case register on the Commission’s competition website can be consulted under case number AT.40606.
Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President in charge of competition policy, emphasised the importance of competition to ensure consumer access to affordable food.
“Competition is essential to ensure that consumers have access to food at affordable prices. We are concerned that six salmon producers exchanged commercially sensitive information with the aim to limit competition on the market, to the detriment of European customers. The companies concerned now have the possibility to respond to our concerns.”