The Spanish Association of Petrol (Gasoline) Service Stations complained to the Spanish Competition Authority that the petrol company CEPSA’s standard agency contract restricted competition by fixing the price at which service stations had to sell to third parties. The Spanish Competition Tribunal rejected the complaint on the grounds that the service stations were commission agents of CEPSA, not independent traders. Upon reference to the European Court of Justice, it was ruled that when service stations undertake non-negligible financial and commercial risks related to the sale of gasoline, the gasoline supplier cannot impose the price of sale to third parties. In the contrary case, the gasoline supplier can determine such price, but the contract could still infringe the competition rules to the extent that exclusivity and non-competition clauses had the effect of “locking up” the market. The case illustrates how competition rules must be reckoned with in all forms of distribution, whether based on agents or independent resellers.
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