The new Competition Authority president recently completed her first full year in office with impressive results. Since November 2016 the authority has adopted six infringement procedure decisions, one commitment decision and two fining decisions. Further, the transposition of the EU Directive on Antitrust Damages Actions into national law appears to be close to completion. As a result, it seems likely that 2018 will start with the approval of a new legal framework for the private enforcement of competition law.
The Competition Authority recently ended an investigation into the exchange of prospective prices between pork meat producers, meat processors and slaughter houses with no finding of anti-competitive practice. This is the first Competition Authority decision to validate an information exchange scheme involving (but not limited to) competitors. As such, more straightforward guidance from the authority on how this case differs from prior cases and justifies such a benign approach would have been welcomed.
To date, 2017 has been a busy year for the Competition Authority. During the first half of the year, the Competition Authority made 36 dawn raids on companies operating in several economic sectors. Although no details of the dawn raids have been released, the authority has clarified that it gathered evidence concerning cartel activities and other practices concerning the offering of goods and services with a direct impact on the final consumer.
In a significant defeat for the Competition Authority, the Lisbon Court of Appeal has partially reversed a first-instance judgment and repealed the main fine imposed in a margin squeeze case which involved pharmacies' sales data for prescription medication and consumer health products. The decision re-emphasises the autonomy, for antitrust liability purposes, of separate legal parties in the same economic group.
The Fighting Bid Rigging in Public Procurement campaign is a highlight of the Competition Authority's recent advocacy initiatives. The campaign is intended to raise awareness among the state bodies that regularly award public contracts of the most common issues concerning bid rigging in public procurement. It also advises on how to detect illegal practices in the context of public tenders and design tender programmes in a way that inhibits potential collusive tendering.
The Competition Authority recently concluded its antitrust inquiry into an agreement between pharmaceutical companies Teva and AstraZeneca, under which Teva had agreed to withdraw a generic medicine from the Portuguese market. The inquiry's findings are the first to combine competition and IP law in the context of a patent settlement between originator and generic pharmaceutical undertakings.
The Court of Competition, Regulation and Supervision recently upheld a Competition Authority decision regarding an infringement of competition rules through the abuse of a dominant position as a result of a margin squeeze. This case constitutes an important result for the Competition Authority, which has been trying to consolidate its decisional practice in the antitrust field by developing improved response times and delivering more detailed investigations and solid decisions.
Following changes to the Competition Act, judicial challenges to Competition Authority decisions have non-suspensive effect. However, given the often punitive magnitude of fines imposed under the Competition Act, these changes have been criticised for infringing fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The Constitutional Tribunal recently gave its opinion on this issue for the first time.
The Competition Authority recently published its report for 2015, in which it details its activities, main achievements and relevant metrics. According to the report, 2015 was a busy and successful year for the authority in the context of antitrust and merger control. Further, the authority's response time and practice have improved, which is a clear indicator that it is becoming a more effective supervisory body.
The Competition Authority recently issued a preliminary facts assessment regarding its investigation into whether the Association of Portuguese Psychologists' code of ethics breaches competition law. In order to address the authority's concerns, the association has proposed certain commitments that, if accepted, will allow the case to be closed without any finding of infringement.
The entry of new players into the taxi market has been highly contentious in Portugal and the modernisation of the regulatory regime is a challenge for the government. The Competition Authority recently published a report in this context on the regulation of passenger transport services, in which it sets out regulatory rules, analyses the constraints of such rules for competition in the market and issues recommendations.
Following a public consultation, the Competition Authority has finalised its initial legislative proposal for the implementation of the EU Private Enforcement Directive. The proposal includes some rather innovative changes, with the legislative solutions for the implementation of the directive in Portugal going further than strictly required by the directive.
The Competition Authority recently proposed closing an investigation into alleged resale price maintenance practices by DIA Portugal after it proposed commitments clarifying that its franchisees are free to set their resale prices and that it only recommends resale prices or defines maximum resale prices. This is the first time that the authority has proposed using the commitments procedure in a case involving resale price maintenance.
The Competition, Regulation and Supervision Court recently overturned a €100,000 fine that the Competition Authority had imposed on CP Carga for alleged disclosure of incomplete information during the investigation of an abuse of dominant position complaint. The court ruled that CP Carga had not provided inaccurate or incomplete information to the Competition Authority, as it did not have the data requested.
In 2015 the Competition Authority investigated Ford Lusitana SA for restrictions in warranty extension agreements which prevented consumers from undertaking maintenance and repair operations at independent repair workshops. The authority ultimately closed the case following its acceptance of commitments by Ford and the imposition of conditions. The case exemplifies the authority's increasingly collaborative approach.
The Competition Authority recently examined the proposed sale of the TAP Group, which includes the Portuguese flag carrier Transportes Aéreos Portugueses SA, to Atlantic Gateway. Despite political and regulatory concern surrounding TAP's privatisation and sale to Atlantic Gateway, the Competition Authority found no competition problems in the planned transaction, which cleared merger control proceedings.
The Competition Authority recently fined five companies for anti-competitive conduct. Four companies applied for leniency and all of the participants in the cartel obtained a reduction in their fines during the settlement procedure. This is the first case in which the authority has used the settlement procedure under the new Competition Act, which resulted in a 10% reduction of the fines imposed.
The Competition Authority recently published for public consultation its preliminary findings on competition in the port sector, which is expected to result in a set of recommendations for promoting competition. In light of the overarching impact of future recommendations and the strategic and economic importance of the sector, significant participation of stakeholders is expected.
The Competition Authority recently fined Peugeot Portugal €150,000 for providing false, inaccurate or incomplete information in response to a request from the authority in the context of an antitrust investigation. The case illustrates that the authority is willing to make use of its punitive prerogatives when it feels that companies are intentionally or negligently obstructing an investigation.
PT Portugal was recently acquired by Altice, a multinational cable and telecommunications company. The merger was expected to have significant horizontal effects by reducing competition in the provision of retail communication services. These concerns were overcome by Altice's willingness to revise the transaction and offer the divestment of its subsidiaries on the Portuguese market.