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June - July 2017 Consumer Products Alert
1. AG is favourable to online platform bans in relation to luxury goods 2. Anticompetitive practices 3. Courts 4. Mergers 5. Others
1. AG is favourable to online platform bans in relation to luxury goods
On 26 July, the conclusions of the Advocate General (“AG”), Nils Wahl, in Case Coty (C-230/16), were made public. In his opinion, Competition Law is compatible with a selective distribution system whereby authorised retailers are prevented from offering the products through online platforms such as Amazon. Although the opinions of the AG are not binding on the CJEU, it is true that on nearly 80% of the occasions the Court follows his recommendations. Indeed, his opinion in is line with the report issued by the European Commission in relation to its sectoral enquiry on e-commerce (please find a summary here). Consequently, the CJEU’s final decision is expected to confirm the validity of such restraints. Let us start with a summary of the facts. Coty Germany (“Coty”), one of Germany’s leading suppliers of luxury cosmetics, included clauses in its distribution agreements whereby the authorised retailers were prevented from offering its products through online platforms belonging to third parties, externally identifiable (such as Amazon). On the contrary, these clauses did not prevent its distributors from using their own websites or websites belonging to third parties but not identifiable as such. Despite the online platforms ban, one of its authorised retailers, Parfüme Akzente (“Akzente”), continued to distribute the contracted goods via its own on-line store and via Amazon. Akzente’s refusal to approve said amendments prompted Coty to raise the issue before the German courts which then referred various questions for a preliminary ruling before the CJEU. The AG begins by recalling that qualitative selective distribution systems fall outside the scope of Article 101(1) TFEU altogether if the conditions set out by the Court in Metro I are fulfilled: (i) the resellers must be chosen on the basis of objective criteria of a qualitative nature, established in a uniform and no discriminatory way; (ii) the nature of the product in question requires selective distribution in order to preserve its quality and to ensure that it is correctly used; and (iii) the criteria established do not go beyond what is necessary. Although it is up to the CJEU to decide whether these criteria are met, the AG thinks that this is the case. Indeed, he gives some interesting opinions on the quality of the products as justifying criteria for the imposition of a selective distribution system. In particular, the AG understands that these systems may be justified not only by the protection of the material qualities of a product, but also by the preservation of its “luxury image”. The key finding is that the preservation of such “luxury image” justifies the establishment of a selective distribution system. This statement is of relevance despite the existence of previous case law in this regard. In Case Pierre Fabre (C-429/09), the CJEU raised doubts on a system whereby the requirements imposed on distributors (i.e. physical on-site attendance by a pharmacist) through a selective distribution system resulted in a de facto prohibition of reselling the products via online. The CJEU concluded that such system constituted a restriction of competition by object, contrary to article 101(1) TFEU. In such case, the preservation of the “luxury image” of the products did not provide sufficient argument for justifying the absolute online sales ban. Based on abovementioned precedent, Akzente (and the government of Luxembourg) argued that the distribution system proposed by Coty was not justified and was contrary to Competition Law. By contrast, the AG correctly understands that the restriction analysed in Pierre Fabre referred only to an “absolute” online sales ban but not to a qualitative selective distribution system that may be supported by the necessity of protection of the “luxury image” of the products. Under the framework of this type of system, the AG considers that a sales ban via Amazon is lawful when necessary in relation to the nature of the products, if established in a uniform and no discriminatory way and where not disproportionate. Whether the system proposed by Coty satisfies these requirements corresponds to the national courts, although the AG reaches the following conclusion: (i) the uniformity and non-discriminatory nature of this system are not in dispute; (ii) this measure seems to be adequate for the preservation of quality, security and the trace of the origin of the product as well as for avoiding free-riding; and (iii) the restriction is proportionate since it is limited to platforms that belong to third parties, which having no contractual commitment with the manufacturer (Coty in this case) are not obliged to follow the quality guidelines which it has imposed on its selective distribution system. In this regard, the AG concludes that neither the system established by Coty nor the restriction to sell products through platforms belonging to third parties fall within the scope of article 101(1) TFEU. Nevertheless, whether the CJEU finally considers that the system implemented by Coty, including the online marketplace ban, does fall within the scope of article 101(1) TFEU, the AG provides guidelines to analyse whether it could benefit from the exemption in accordance with Regulation nº 330/2010. In particular, the AG considers that an online marketplace ban would not constitute a serious restriction of competition that precludes the application of the exemptions set forth in the Regulation. In short, in quality selective distribution systems, the AG calls for the authorisation for manufacturers of luxury products to prohibit the distribution of such products through online marketplaces such as Amazon or Ebay. With regard to branded (no luxury) products, such ban would need an in-depth analysis to determine whether it is anti-competitive and, if so, whether the exemptions included in Regulation nº 330/2010 may apply. In any case, absolute online sales bans continue to be prohibited in accordance with the Pierre Fabre precedent.
2. Anticompetitive practices Investigations European Union
Guess (Press release) 06/06/2017. The European Commission has opened a formal investigation into the distribution agreements and practices of clothing manufacturer and retailer Guess. As per the Press Release, the Commission intends to examine the Guess Group’s distribution agreements for clothing, shoes and accessories within the EEA which may contain restrictions to authorised retailers on cross-border sales, bans on cross-selling between members of its selective distribution system, limitations on internet sales and restrictions on resale prices. The investigation deals with issues identified as problematic in the final report on the e-commerce sector inquiry issued by the Commission for the Council and the European Parliament on 10 May 2017, which we have discussed here. Nike / Universal Studios / Sanrio (Press release) 14/06/2017. The European Commission has opened three separate case files against Nike, Universal Studios and Sanrio to determine whether they could be restricting cross-border and online sales of merchandising products within the single market. The investigated companies license the rights of some of the most widely recognised brands. Nike, for example, is the licensor of rights of FC Barcelona, Sanrio is the licensor of rights of Hello Kitty and Universal is the licensor of rights for the "Minions" and "Despicable Me". The Commission will examine whether these three companies have infringed competition law by restricting their licensees' ability to sell licensed goods cross-border and online.
Cigarettes (Press release) 20/06/2017. The Spanish Competition Authority (“CNMC”) has opened an inquiry for possible anticompetitive practices in the manufacture, distribution and marketing of cigarettes against Philip Morris, Altadis, JTI, British American Tobacco and Logista. Particularly, the case file refers to horizontal agreements on prices and other commercial conditions and the illicit exchange of information. The opening of the case file was preceded by the inspection of the headquarters of several of the companies investigated on 28 February and 2 March of the current year. The CNMC now has 18 months to resolve the matter. Germany German car manufacturers (Press release) 21/07/2017. According to the German press, the European Commission and German competition authority would have been aware of practices restricting competition between the largest German car manufacturers. In particular, Audi, Porsche, Daimler and BMW would have reached secret agreements on technology, costs, suppliers and even the control of emissions from their vehicles (the "dieselgate" scandal) through working groups since the 90's. If confirmed, this case could become the largest German cartel in history. Settlement proceedings Spain Swcheppes (Case file) 29/06/2017. The Spanish competition authority (“CNMC”) has agreed to settle the proceedings, subject to commitments, against Schweppes S.A. (S/DC/0548/15) for a possible breach of the Spanish and European competition law. After receiving a complaint in September 2015, the CNMC filed a sanctioning proceeding against Schweppes, S.A., considering that certain agreements were signed between the company and several marketers to prevent the further distribution in Spain of Schweppes’ tonic not manufactured by Schweppes, S.A. in national territory, as they could exceed the trademark rights and infringe competition rules. These agreements were not only limited to preventing the importation of the Schweppes’ tonic made by Coca-Cola in the United Kingdom and other EU countries (permitted in accordance with its trademark rights), but, from their literal nature, it could also be presumed that they restricted parallel trade regarding the Schweppes’ tonic manufactured by any of the subsidiaries in other European countries of the group to which Schweppes, S.A. belongs. Given this accusation, in June 2016 Schweppes, S.A presented several binding commitments to the CNMC to solve the possible competition problems caused by these agreements, which were accepted by the CNMC. For further information on the origin of this matter, consult the Consumer Products Alert of September 2015. Sanctions
Printeos (Press release) 16/06/2017. The European Commission has re-imposed a €4.7 million fine on Printeos (formerly known as Tompla S.A.) for its participation, together with four other companies, in a price fixing cartel in the European envelope market. The cartel was declared by the European Commission in December 2014 when, under a settlement procedure, the parties acknowledged that the facts constituted a breach in exchange for a reduction of the ultimate fine imposed. Nevertheless, Printeos appealed the Decision on the grounds of lack of a sufficient statement of reasons, which was favourably received by the General Court of the European Union in its Judgment of 13 December 2016 (Case T-95/15), the first General Court judgment overriding a Decision taken in a settlement procedure. The Commission's new Decision does not call into question Printeos' liability as it only addresses the procedural error identified by the General Court, imposing an identical fine on Printeos to that imposed in the initial Decision but this time reasoned. As a result of the Judgment, Printeos has filed a claim for compensation for damages, seeking a payment equivalent to the interest on the repayment of the principal amount of the fine which was unduly paid by the company, after the General Court decided to override the original Decision. Google (Press release) 27/06/2017. The European Commission has imposed a fine of more than €2.4 billion on Google for abusing its dominant position as a search engine across the European Economic Area ("EEA") by giving an illicit competitive advantage to its comparison shopping service (Google Shopping) through placing its results in more prominent positions than those of its competitors. The fine is, to date, the highest imposed for an anti-competitive practice of this type by the European Commission. The amount has been determined taking into account the revenue from the comparison shopping service in the 13 EEA countries concerned, the seriousness and the duration of the infringement. As a consequence of this Decision, the Commission will closely monitor Google’s behaviour to verify that it has ceased the infringement and, if not, the Commission may impose coercive penalty payments for each day of delay of up to 5% of the average daily worldwide turnover of its parent company Alphabet. Germany Sausages (Press release) 26/06/2017. The German competition authority (“Bundeskartellamt”) has revoked the fines imposed on three companies penalized in 2014 for their participation in a price fixing cartel in the sausage market. The Bundeskartellamt had to terminate further proceedings because the companies were able to make use of a legal loophole that has been corrected with the entry into force in June of a new Law on the Defence of Competition (Gesetz gegen Wettbewerbsbeschränkungen) regarding the liability of the parent companies. P&C Düsseldorf / Wellensteyn (Press release) 25/07/2017. The German competition authority ("Bundeskartellamt") has sanctioned the textile manufacture Wellensteyn International GmbH & Co. KG ("Wellensteyn") and the retailer Peek & Cloppenburg KG, Düsseldorf ("P&C Düsseldorf") with fines amounting to €10.9 million. The sanctioned anticompetitive practice consisted of Wellensteyn's fixing of minimum resale prices and the prohibition on P&C Düsseldorf to make discounts and rebates via internet. Moreover, P&C would have cooperated with the former to ensure the respect of the minimum resale price.
European Union Alliance One International (Press release) 20/06/2017. The European Commission has reviewed a Decision from of 13 years ago, against some members of the Spanish raw tobacco cartel, reducing International Alliance’s fine (the successor entity to the parent companies of one of the participants in the offence) by €243,000. In 2004, the Commission fined five active companies in the raw tobacco processing market a total of €20 million for colluding on the prices paid to, and quantities bought from, tobacco growers in Spain (Spanish raw tobacco cartel). World Wide Tobacco Spain ("WWTE") was ordered to pay a penalty of €1.8 million (Case C-240/11P) on a joint and several basis with its parent companies. Both WWTE and its parent companies appealed the decision to the General Court, although only WWTE gained the reduction of the fine by €243,000 as the grounds of the appeal were not the same (Case T-37/05 and joined Cases C-628/10P and C-14/11P). In its amended Decision, the Commission grants Alliance One International, as successor company to WWTE's parent companies, the same reduction of €243,000 as the latter. The Commission appears to have taken this decision in light of recent case law developments, particularly the recent Judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union which state that when the liability of the parent company merely results from that of its subsidiary and no other factor singles out the behaviour of which the parent company was accused, the liability of the parent company cannot exceed that of its subsidiary (e.g. Case T-597/13).
Vodka (Press release) 07/06/2017. The €11 million fine imposed to Liviko and four retail chains for their participation in a cartel relating to the distribution of certain brands of vodka has come into force after the Estonian Supreme Court's announcement that it will not initiate proceedings in relation to this case. The cartel consisted of an increase of the prices of vodka. The rise was orchestrated by the beverage manufacturer and distributor Liviko (there was no communication between the distribution chains).
Société Nouvelle des Yaourts de Littée (Case file) 08/06/2017. The French Court of Cassation has confirmed the fine imposed on the yoghurt maker Société Nouvelle des Yaourts de Littée ("SNYL"), leader in the yoghurt market on Martinique, for abusing its dominant position by denigrating its competitor Laiterie de Saint-Malo ("LSM") in the market for Dairy products in the French Antilles. SNYL was initially punished with a fine of €1.6 million by the French competition authority for the dissemination of information on the allegedly poor health quality of LSM products between 2007 and 2009. The penalty was reduced at the First Instance to €1.3 million, an amount that has been upheld by the Court of Cassation in its Judgment. Henkel / Unilever / otros (Press release) 08/06/2017. The Tribunal de Grande Instance of Lille has dismissed a consumer claim against Henkel, Unilever and other companies because of the damages suffered as a consequence of the cartel sanctioned by the French Competition Authority in 2014 in the market for cleaning products (Decision n° 14-D-19 of 18 December 2014). The Court dismissed the claim for damages, stating that there was no reliable evidence that the cartel had harmed the consumers in question. Expedia (Press release) 23/06/2017. A Paris court of appeal has ordered Expedia to pay a €1 million fine for imposing price parity clauses on hotels in France, as it was considered an abusive practice of commercial and tariff-setting freedom of hotels, prohibited by the French Commercial Code. Expedia has announced that it will appeal the judgment at the Court of Cassation. Price parity clauses or “narrow parity clauses” may also be contrary to Competition Law by preventing hotels from offering lower prices than those found on online booking platforms (such as Expedia, Booking, etc.). As we have stated here recently, the European Commission has prepared a report in cooperation with 11 national competition authorities which examines the impact of the latest changes in parity clauses used by online travel agencies.
Heineken (Press release) 06/07/2017. A Greek Administrative Court of Appeal has upheld a landmark antitrust case against Heineken brewery, sanctioned in 2015 for abusing its market power for almost two decades (however reducing the initial fine from €31.5 million to €26.7 million). The Greek Antitrust Authority ("HCC") has confirmed that Athenian Brewery (controlled by Heineken) paid pubs and restaurants not to sell their competitors' products and granted discounts to customers for buying certain quantities of beer, thus excluding its competitors from the different sales channels. This statement supports claims of Macedonian Thrace Brewery ("MTB") which, following the initial failure of the HCC in 2015, filed a claim for damages against Heineken for more than €100 million at the Amsterdam Courts.
4. Mergers European Union
Cargill / ADM Chocolate Business (Press release) 17/07/2017. The European Commission has approved with commitments the proposed acquisition of Cargill's chocolate business line by Archer Daniels Midland ("ADM"). Both US groups supply industrial chocolate, as well as grease liners and fillers used by the food processing industry to produce cookies, ice cream and chocolate confectionery, among others. The transaction includes three ADM plants in North America (Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Hazleton, Pennsylvania; and Georgetown, Ontario) and three in Europe (Liverpool, UK; Manage, Belgium; and Mannheim, Germany). The Commission's investigation revealed that the notified transaction would reduce competition in the already concentrated industrial chocolate market, with a risk of price increases for customers located near the German factories of the parties, especially for small and medium-sized customers. Consequently, the Commission's authorization was conditional on Cargill selling the ADM plant in Mannheim (Germany). The Priceline Group / Momondo Group Holdings (Press release) 17/07/2017. The European Commission has authorized, in the first phase, the acquisition of Momondo group (Momondo, Cheapflights) by Priceline group (booking.com, kayak), both present in the online tourism sector. Zalando / Bestseller United / JV (Press release) 19/06/2017. The European Commission has approved, in the first phase, the acquisition of Fashiontrade.com (Netherlands) by Zalando (Germany) and Bestseller United (Denmark). Fashiontrade.com will provide wholesale e-commerce services. The Commission has concluded that the proposed acquisition does not raise competition concerns, given the very limited overlaps between the companies’ activities. LVMH / Marcolin / JV (Case file) 30/06/5017. The Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy Group (LVMH) and Marcolin SpA, an eyeglasses manufacturer and wholesaler, have notified the European Commission of their intention to create a joint venture active in the manufacturing and sale of eyeglasses products worldwide. The provisional date for a Resolution on the merger at the first stage is 7 August. Norgesgruppen / Axfood / NAX / Eurocash (Case file) 10/07/2017 Food wholesalers and retailers Norgestruppen (Norway) and Axfood (Sweden) have requested the European Commission to approve the acquisition of joint control over the company owner of the grocery chain Eurocash (Sweden). Eurocash operates on the Norwegian border and its business is mainly aimed at Norwegian consumers (Norwegian residents) who cross the border to buy economic everyday products, alcohol and tobacco. The deadline to authorize the merger at the first stage is 16 August.
Makro Autoservicio Mayorista / Midban Esolutions (Case file) 05/07/2017. The wholesale distribution company Makro has notified the Spanish competition authority (“CNMC”) of its intention to acquire control over the Barcelona-based company Midban Esolutions, active in the foodstuffs distribution for catering in the metropolitan area of Barcelona. UVESA / SADA (Case file; Press release) 17/07/2017 U.V.E. S.A., one of the leading domestic chicken producers, has notified the Spanish competition authority (“CNMC”) of its intention to acquire the poultry plant of the SADA group, Mercadona’s chicken inter-provider until 2013, in the town of Rafelbunyol, Valencia.
LBO France Gestion / Grupo HMY (Case file) 16/06/2017 The Autorité de la concurrence (French competition authority), in its Decision of 31 May 2017, has authorised the acquisition of 100% of the capital and voting rights of HMY international, a company active in the supply of furniture and accessories for the equipment and conditioning of commercial premises, by LBO France Gestion, an investment fund which controls the clothing, footwear and accessories retailer IKKS group. In its Decision, the competition authority states that the transaction causes vertical effects, although it considers that its execution is unlikely to lead to a situation of blocking inputs, as none of the parties has a share exceeding 30% in their respective markets which enables them to block related upstream or downstream markets. United Kingdom JD Sports / Go Outdoors (Case file) 07/06/2017 The Competition and Markets Authority ("CMA"), in its Decision of 3 May 2017, has approved the acquisition by the sports shop JD Sports of its rival Go Outdoors. The announcement of the approval comes six months after the notification of the transaction to the CMA, which decided to initiate an investigation into the possible decrease of supply in the clothing, footwear and outdoor exercise equipment retail market in the United Kingdom. After thoroughly analysing the effects on each of the affected product and geographic markets, the CMA has concluded that the transaction does not lead to a significant lessening of competition in the United Kingdom. RM / Hedgelane LTD (Case file) 16/06/2017 The CMA Decision of 1 June 2017 has been published, approving the anticipated acquisition by RM plc. of Hedgelane Limited, both distributors of educational resources in the United Kingdom (see here). Following the in-depth analysis of the effects of the transaction, the CMA has concluded that, although it will lead to a reduction in the number of national distributors from five to four, the three remaining national distributors will continue to exert significant competitive pressure on the entity resulting from the transaction. Additionally, the CMA has considered that educational institutions purchase educational resources from a wide variety of sources (the top five national distributors together account for only about 15% of total expenditure on educational resources) and that the resulting entity will also face competition from specialist suppliers for specific product lines (such as furniture, cleaning products, sports equipment, etc.). Finally, the CMA has pointed out that online retailers of educational resources are expected to increase in the future. Heineken UK / Punch Taverns Holdco (Case file) 11/07/2017 The CMA has submitted for public consultation the commitments proposed by Heineken N.V. to obtain authorization for the transaction consisting of the acquisition of the Punch Taverns Holdco (A) Limited (“Punch Taverns”), which approximately comprises 1900 pubs throughout the United Kingdom. The CMA, which is aware of the matter by a referral from the European Commission, identified 33 geographical areas where the transaction could entail a significant reduction of competition in relation to the pub management market. The commitments offered by Heineken go through the divestment of several pubs, theoretically solving the negative effects detected by the CMA. Romania Lactalis / Covalact y Lactate Harghita (Press release) 16/06/2017 The Romanian competition authority has initiated consultations on the commitments offered by the French dairy group Lactalis in the context of its acquisition of the Romanian companies Covalact and Lactate Harghita. These commitments seek to address the problems identified by the Romanian authority in relation to the production and marketing of butter. Specifically, Lactalis has offered to grant a temporary license right over its brand of butter “La Dorna” to a third party, which must rename the product after the expected time.
The European Commission has published the long-awaited decision AB Inbev/SabMiller (Decision) 18/06/2017 More than a year after the Decision taken by the European Commission on the acquisition of SabMiller by AB Indev, such Decision has been published. This transaction, between the two largest brewers in the world, was cleared on 24 May 2017 and conditional on AB InBev selling practically the entire SABMiller beer business in Europe. You can find further information (in Spanish) on the transaction here. The European Commission is considering the review of the Common Agricultural Policy regarding unfair trading practices (Press release) 08/06/2017 In his speech at the FEFAC-AFACA Congress in Córdoba (Spain), the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, has announced the Commission’s intention to explore a new initiative against unfair trading practices (UTPs) with the aim of improving the existing situation of farmers against large retailers. On the other hand, the EU Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Verstager, recalled the exceptional nature of derogations to competition law in the agricultural sector, always limited to specific instances and products, to promote dialogue between farmers without reaching collusion by price fixing. Denomination of plant-based products (Judgement) 14/06/2017 ECJ has decided on the prejudicial matter, referred by the Regional Court of Trier (Germany), on whether Regulation nº 1308/2013 permits the use of exclusively reserved names for dairy products to designate purely plant-based products, if followed by explanatory or descriptive references indicating their plant origin (Case C-422/16). In its judgment, the ECJ provides that the name "milk" and other names reserved exclusively for dairy products cannot be legally used in the European Union to designate a purely plant-based product, unless it is listed in the Annex I to Decision 2010/791. The use of references indicating the plant origin of the concerned product has no influence on this prohibition. The ECJ therefore considers that the use of names such as "vegetable cheese" or "tofu butter" may be misleading over the product qualities to the consumer and, thus, constitutive of unfair competition. Likewise, the ECJ points out that the non-submission of plant-based or vegan products as substitutes of meat or fish to similar restrictions in terms of their name does not contravene the principle of equal treatment, since each sector of the common organization of markets in agricultural products has distinctive features that justify the application of differentiated rules. Andalusia urges the Government to bring a proposal to the European Union to allow the collective storage of olive oil (Press release) 01/07/2017 On 27 June, the Andalusian Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development, Rodrigo Sánchez Haro, called on the Government to submit a proposal to the European Commission to allow the collective storage of olive oil. Given the market volatility, this measure, addressed by the Producer Organizations ("PO"), would help stabilize prices by withdrawing part of the production when there is a surplus. On 20 June, the EU Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Verstager, stated to the members of the European Parliament that a system which would allow producers to build up reserves to sell in the coming years is being developed.
This Newsletter has been created by the Consumer Products team at CMS Albiñana & Suárez de Lezo. It contains a general overview of selected press releases, and does not intend to be exhaustive. The comments included do not constitute professional opinions or any form of legal advice. The CMS team specialising in consumer products is made up of lawyers with vast experience giving advice in a myriad of different fields, including competition law, distribution agreements, joint ventures, sales and mergers of companies, legal advice for brand protection, outsourcing agreements, product liability, judicial proceedings, compliance programmes, etc. Our clients work in a wide range of sectors including food and beverages, cosmetics and personal hygiene, textiles, technology, household products, distribution, sanitary products etc. For any enquiry you may contact:
Patricia Liñán Partner CMS T +34 91 451 93 35 email@example.com
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