The Belgian Competition Council (BCC) has imposed fines of €14.7 million on three cement producers and two associations for restricting access to the Belgian market for new entrants.
The BCC said that Belgian subsidiary of producer HeidelbergCement, CBR, together with the Belgian subsidiary of Italcimenti, CCB, had colluded with fellow producer Hoclim and the Federation of the Belgian Cement Industry (FEBELCEM), as well as the National Centre for Technical and Scientific Research for the Cement Industry (CRIC/OCCN), to restrict competition.
“These parties have concerted with each other, between May 2000 and October 2003, with a view to delaying the adoption of a license and of standards making it possible to use ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBFS) as a component of ready-mix concrete,” the BCC said.
It said a company producing GGBFS called Orcem had presented the material as a partial substitute for cement in ready-mixed concrete – an ingredient which has been recognised by the Belgian authorities.
But BCC said Orcem faced delays in importing GGBFS to Belgium as a result of the accused companies’ anti-competitive actions.
“The Council has decided that the Belgian producers of cement, CBR, CCB and Holcim, and the association FEBELCEM they are the members of, wanted to protect their commercial interests, which consisted of selling cement as a component of ready-mixed concrete. The organisation CRIC/OCCN has been helpful to them to that effect,” it added.
A FEBELCEM spokesperson said the association would investigate the BCC decision in detail. They said it was possible to launch an appeal within a month.
Meanwhile, Holcim said its Belgian subsidiary would also consider whether to file an appeal.
A statement from CBR said, "We and our lawyers continue to assess that the actions of FEBELCEM and her members remained within the limits of a normal lobbying during the period stressed by the Competition Council. Accordingly, we intend to file an appeal before the Brussels Court of Appeal against the decision of the Competition Council.
"CBR, member of the HeidelbergCement Group, is committed to strict compliance to the competition law and, since long, has put in place processes in the organisation in order to ensure it."
However, Donal O’Riain, managing director of Orcem’s parent company Ecocem Materials, welcomed the “historic decision".
“The tactic of competition discrimination in cement markets via manipulation of technical standards by the established industry leaders is widespread in Europe,” Mr O’Riain said.
“More recent examples are evident in France and at EU level. We hope that this decision marks the beginning of the end for such practices. We are encouraged by the fact that it was the EU Commission that formally lodged this complaint. We will be urging them, in the light of this decision and the anti-competitive practices it reveals, to pursue the investigation into similar practices elsewhere in the EU."
He said Orcem was directly targeted by this discrimination and suffered severe restrictions to its markets and performance over a period of 10 years.
"We are consulting with our advisors and will be taking legal action for compensation of several tens of millions of Euros against the cement companies concerned. We understand that a number of concrete manufacturers that also suffered higher costs and restrictions on supply are considering similar action,” Mr O’Riain added.