Michael Pascoe writes:

While the ACCC prepares for a long and
expensive fight with Dick Pratt and Visy over the alleged cardboard box cartel,
the European Commission has handed out the sort of cartel fine of which Graeme
Samuel can only dream.

The EC plods overnight hit seven
chemicals companies with fines totalling $639 million. The BBC reports: “The fined parties were Belgium’s
Solvay, France’s
Arkema, Dutch business Akzo Nobel, Finland’s Kemira, Spain’s FMC
Foret, and Snia and Edison from Italy. The EC
said two other companies were involved in the cartel, Germany’s
Degussa and France’s Air
Liquide, but the former escaped a fine by rolling over and Air Liquide by
exiting the cartel in 1998 – putting it outside the EC’s time limit.”

The ACCC is checking the European
judgement, but at first glance it seems the cartel operated outside the ACCC’s
six-year statute of limitations and not many of the culprits have been active
here.

The biggest fines here so far for a
cartel action were the $26 million picked up from vitamin manufacturers in 2001
on the coat tails of another European action. Another case filed in 2003
against F Hoffmann-La Roche (Switzerland),
BASF Aktiengesellschaft (Germany),
Takeda Chemical Industries (Japan)
and various related companies over vitamin C is still before the courts.

A key chemical at stake in last night’s
judgment was humble hydrogen peroxide. You can bleach a lot of roots for $639
million.

Peter Fray

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