On 18 February 2014, the German Federal Cartel Office (Bundeskartellamt) imposed fines totaling around €280m on the three major German sugar manufacturers Pfeifer & Langen GmbH & Co. KG, Südzucker AG and Nordzucker AG for fixing prices, setting quotas and sharing markets.
The infringements involved the sale of industrial and consumer sugar and took place over several years dating back to the mid ‘90s until the Bundeskartellamt started investigations in 2009. The sugar producers had formed a “territorial cartel” and for many years agreed to generally limit their sales of sugar in Germany to their respective sales areas instead of competing in one another’s territories. The companies than exported the sugar they were not selling in one another’s’ territories.
Interestingly, aside from the territorial cartel, the Bundeskartellamt found that the sugar producers had used the European quota regime, the minimum price guarantee and the resulting high market transparency for price coordination. This price co-ordination further limited competition in the market.
The Bundeskartellamt identified the case as an express example of how extensive market regulation could actually restrict competition to the detriment of customers. In this case, too much price transparency made price co-ordination between the competitors easier.
The fines are not yet final and can be appealed to the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court.