Competition: Commission fines producers of car and truck bearings EUR 953 million in cartel settlement

The Commission has imposed fines totaling approximately EUR 953 million on two European companies, SKF and Schaeffler and on four Japanese companies, JTEKT, NSK, NFC and NTN with its French subsidiary NTN-SNR for colluding to coordinate their pricing strategy towards automotive customers in violation of Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (“TFEU”) in the market for automotive bearings. The infringement covered the whole European Economic Area (“EEA”) and lasted for more than seven years, from April 2004 until July 2011. Automotive bearings are usually customer-specific products which are used by car, truck and car part manufacturers to reduce friction between moving parts inside a vehicle. To select their suppliers, customers generally issue so-called Requests for Quotations and Annual Price Reduction requests for yearly discounts to reflect yearly production efficiencies over the course of the contract. The companies involved in the cartel coordinated the passing-on of steel price increases to their automotive customers, colluded on Requests for Quotations and for Annual Price Reduction requests from customers as well as exchanged commercially sensitive information through multi-, tri- and bilateral contracts. JTEKT was not fined in the process as it received full immunity under the Commission’s 2006 Leniency Notice for revealing the existence of the cartel to the Commission. NSK, NFC, SKF and Schaeffler also benefited reductions of their fines under the Commission’s leniency programme as they cooperated in the investigation. Further, the Commission reduced the fines imposed on all of the companies by 10 % under the Commission’s 2008 Settlement Notice for agreeing to settle the case. Source: Commission Press Release 19/3/2014

Competition: Commission adopts revised competition regime for technology transfer agreements

The Commission has adopted new rules for the assessment of technology transfer agreements under EU competition rules. The purpose of transfer agreements is to enable companies to license the use of patents, know-how or software held by another company for the production of goods and services. The revised rules facilitate such sharing of intellectual property, including through patent pools, and provide clearer guidance on licensing agreements that stimulate competition. Furthermore, the revised rules aim to strengthen incentives for research and innovation. Licensing helps to spread innovation and allows companies to offer new products and services. It also strengthens incentives for research and development by creating additional revenue streams to recoup costs. The new revised regime consists of the Technology Transfer Exemption Regulation (“TTBER”) and the Technology Transfer Guidelines. The main features of the new rules include reflections on the fact that licensing is in most cases pro-competitive. Further, new guidance on “patent pools” has been incorporated. Patent pools can give companies cheaper and easier access to necessary intellectual property rights, such as standard essential patents, by establishing a one-stop-shop. Furthermore, certain types of clauses are no longer automatically exempted from the competition rules but have to be assessed case-by-case. These are clauses which allow the licensor to terminate a non-exclusive agreement if the licensee challenges the validity of the intellectual property rights, and clauses that force a licensee to license any improvements it makes to the licensed technology to the licensor on an exclusive basis. Source:Commission Press Release 25/03/2014

Competition: Commission confirms unannounced inspections in the sector of automotive exhaust systems

The Commission has confirmed that on 25 March 2014 it undertook unannounced inspections at the premises of companies active in the automotive exhaust systems industry in several Member States. The Commission has concerns that the companies inspected may have violated Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (“TFEU”) that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices and/or abuse of a dominant market position. Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step into suspected anticompetitive practices. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behavior nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. Source: Commission Press Release 25/03/2014

Competition: The Parliament and the Council have reached political agreement on antitrust damages directive

Antoine Colombani, the Commission spokesperson for competition and for Vice President Joaquín Almunia, have confirmed in a statement on Twitter, available via the DG Competition website that on 18 March 2014, the Parliament and the Council reached political agreement on the Commission’s proposed directive on antitrust damages actions. Neither the Parliament nor the Council have issued any statement on this development. Source: Twitter @ECspokesAntoine

Competition: The Commission welcomes agreement reached between European and Chinese wine industries which will put an end to China’s anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases

The European and Chinese wine industries, respectively represented by the European Committee of Wine Companies (“CEEV”) and the Chinese Alcohol Drinks Association (“CADA”), have reached an agreement which will lead to the termination of the Chinese investigations into European wine exports and will provide the basis for technical cooperation and exchanges planned for the next two years. In July 2013, the Chinese authorities (“MOFCOM”) initiated an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation into European wine exports to China. Extensive replies to requests for information for the dumping and subsidy investigations under the WTO framework were prepared by the Commission and the EU industry, and were submitted to China in the second half of 2013. The Commission has also consistently defended the view that the case is unfounded and that any aid given to the EU wine sector are fully WTO compatible. In parallel to the investigation, the European wine industry (represented by CEEV) and the Chinese wine industry (represented by CAVA) initiated a “Business to Business” dialogue process in November 2013 which was encouraged and supported by the Commission and the Chinese government. The Memorandum of Understanding reached between CEEV and CADA during this dialogue consists of a commitment by the Chinese industry to withdraw its anti-subsidy and anti-dumping complaint against EU wine imports, and the agreement on technical assistance and cooperation activities between both parties for an initial period of two years. Both parties will set up permanent information and communication exchanges, monitor the implementation of their cooperation, and collaborate at international level on advocacy activities aimed on improving market access conditions in third countries. Between 2007 and 2012 the Chinese wine market has experienced very significant growth. In 2012 EU wine exports to China amounted to EUR 764 million out of overall wine exports of approximately EUR 8.8 billion. Source: Commission Press Release 21/03/2014

In addition, kindly note the following merger control decisions by the Commission which are published on the website of the Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition:

  • Commission clears joint venture between Nestlé and Lotte Group in Korea
  • Commission clears acquisition of Phunciona by LBEIP, Global Vía Infraestructuras and Obrascón Huarte Laín in Spanish health sector
  • Commission approves Russian joint venture between AGCO Corporation and Basic Element
  • Commission clears acquisition of onshore wind farms by GDF Suez, Predica Prévoyance and Omnes Capital