`Catalan Competition Authority Considers Investigation Into Price Manipulation - Olive Oil Times

Catalan Competition Authority Considers Investigation Into Price Manipulation

Oct. 10, 2013
Julie Butler

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Growers’ claims that abu­sive behav­ior in the olive oil sec­tor is dri­ving down ex-mill prices may be inves­ti­gated by Catalonia’s com­pe­ti­tion watch­dog.

According to Catalan farmer group Unió de Pagesos, the Catalan Competition Authority (ACCO) agreed in Barcelona on Tuesday to probe its claims of anti-com­pet­i­tive con­duct in the olive oil sec­tor.

The union’s olive oil spokesman Miquel Blanch said it wel­comed a com­mit­ment given by the ACCO to pre­pare a report into its con­cerns which would cover rela­tions between dif­fer­ent oper­a­tors in the sec­tor, prices, and any imped­i­ments to free com­pe­ti­tion.

Many olive oil pro­duc­ers in Catalonia are in a very dif­fi­cult eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion, par­tic­u­larly those in rain-fed areas with low yields, he said.

An ACCO spokes­woman said the author­ity had not yet received a for­mal request but had indi­cated its will­ing­ness to con­sider one and could not rule out prepar­ing a report sim­i­lar to the one it released on milk prices in January, titled Prices in the Catalan dairy sec­tor: are there risks to com­pe­ti­tion?”

Spain’s com­pe­ti­tion watch­dog wants hard proof

Juan Luis Ávila Castro, gen­eral sec­re­tary of farmer union COAG in Jaén, said it would be fan­tas­tic” if the ACCO pre­pared such a report on olive oil prices.

In May, the union made a sub­mis­sion to Spain’s National Competition Commission (CNC) for a probe of alleged price manip­u­la­tion by olive oil dis­trib­u­tors.

However, Ávila said that in the last week the CNC had replied that it required very con­crete evi­dence to con­sider such a move.

He said the CNC had its own inves­ti­ga­tion unit and judi­cial pow­ers and was best-placed to seek proof. The union could point out what was a very sus­pi­cious sit­u­a­tion — pro­ducer prices falling despite Spain just expe­ri­enc­ing its worst har­vest in 20 years and hav­ing very low stocks.

Obtaining evi­dence was not easy, we could be talk­ing about tele­phone calls between four peo­ple.”

The union was con­sid­er­ing other options, includ­ing ask­ing the European Commission to inves­ti­gate, he said.

The sit­u­a­tion has only got­ten worse. Prices are drop­ping even though stocks are prac­ti­cally at zero and the next har­vest will start later because the rain in May retarded the fruit set. Oil yields are much lower than they nor­mally are at this time,” he said.

Low stocks and lower prices in Spain

Spain’s POOLred price obser­va­tory shows the aver­age ex-mill price for olive oil for the week to October 10 was €2.15 a kilo, down from €2.69 in the last week of April and €2.86 at the end of January.

According to the Spanish Olive Oil Agency, Spain’s olive oil stocks stood at just under 400,000 tons at the end of August (its most recent pub­lished fig­ure), a third lower than the aver­age at the same time in the four pre­vi­ous sea­sons but suf­fi­cient to sup­ply the domes­tic and export mar­ket.”


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