On 6 October 2017, the UK Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) provided a reminder that competing companies risk infringing competition law if they exchange commercially sensitive information even at one meeting. Competition law compliance programmes must reflect this.
The case was an appeal from a December 2016 finding by the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The CMA found that Balmoral, a supplier of galvanised steel water tanks, along with three other businesses, had breached competition law by taking part in an exchange of competitively sensitive information on prices and pricing intentions.
Balmoral was fined £130,000 for taking part in this unlawful information exchange. The exchange took place at a single meeting in July 2012 at which Balmoral was invited to join a long-running price-fixing cartel. Balmoral refused to take part in the price-fixing cartel, but exchanged competitively sensitive information with its competitors. The CMA secretly recorded this meeting.
The CAT agreed with the CMA that this was not an innocuous discussion but an infringement of competition law. The CMA welcomed this decision, reminding companies in a press release that they must decline to take part in any discussions that involve the sharing of confidential and competitively sensitive pricing information.
Any business that is approached to join a cartel, or become involved in anti-competitive arrangements, must immediately reject the approach, and must do so clearly and unequivocally. It is not enough to refrain from price-fixing or market-sharing. The business (and its representatives) must leave the meeting, and make clear and explicit its refusal to take part.