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EU Shuts Sugar Price-Fixing Investigation on Lack of Evidence

European Union competition regulators said they closed a probe into the sugar industry, a day after Suedzucker AG, Nordzucker AG and Pfeifer & Langen were fined by Germany’s antitrust agency for price-fixing.

Raids on Suedzucker and Nordzucker by the European Commission last year failed to unearth evidence of competition violations across Europe, the Brussels-based EU authority said in an e-mailed statement today.

The EU’s “initial suspicion as to the existence of price and volume arrangements between the sugar producers in various EU countries was not conclusively confirmed by the information gathered on the spot,” said Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for Joaquin Almunia, the EU’s antitrust chief. “The commission does not exclude that it may re-investigate the sugar sector at a later stage on the basis of new elements.”

Suedzucker agreed to pay 195.5 million euros ($268.7 million) to end a probe by Germany’s Bundeskartellamt, the company said yesterday. German officials said they found collusion between the sugar producers to set sales areas, quotas and prices for sugar sold to industry and to retailers in the country until 2009.

Average EU white sugar prices climbed to a record in January 2013 on lower-than-expected imports into the bloc, despite falling world prices. EU producers face quotas in how much sugar they could sell in Europe, with demand shortfalls met with imports. The German probe found that the three companies used the European quota system and a minimum price guarantee to help them coordinate and gain the highest price possible for their sugar.

Price Increases

“According to statements by industrial customers this action did indeed lead to substantial price increases and to bottlenecks in the supply of sugar,” the Bundeskartellamt said in its statement yesterday.

Suedzucker, Nordzucker and Pfeifer & Langen were fined 280 million euros in total by German regulators yesterday. Suedzucker is “happy with the decision to close” the EU case and respects competition laws, Dominik Risser, a spokesman for the company, said by phone from Mannheim today.

Nordzucker agreed to pay “a seven-figure fine” in Germany, it said in a statement on its website. The company declined to comment beyond yesterday’s statement.

Pfeifer & Langen didn’t immediately respond to questions on the EU and German investigations sent via its website.

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