After a remarkable year in both merger control and antitrust, the Serbian Competition Commission (the “Commission”) is already starting to look ahead. The announcements made on the Commission’s website during November and December of this year suggest that the Commission’s focus in the year ahead will be directed at several industries in particular.
Firstly, the Commission published on its website the Report on the Sectorial Analysis of Aftermarkets. The Report, prepared in cooperation with external partners, contains a comprehensive overview of the current legal framework, existing market conditions, as well as recommendations aimed at improving the competitive landscape in motor vehicle and home appliances post-sale services sectors. Amongst other things, the sector analysis will serve as the basis for adopting the expected Vertical Block Exemption Regulation in the motor vehicle sector, which will further harmonize the Serbian rules with the legislative framework of the EU. The Report is publically available only in Serbian at http://www.kzk.gov.rs/kzk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Aftermarkets2016.pdf.
Swiftly after publishing the Report on Aftermarkets, the Competition Commission announced that it intends to conduct another sector analysis and inquiry on the retail market related to “non-specialized stores predominately supplied with food, beverages and tobacco”. As announced, the inquiry would encompass the retail end-user and procurement markets, with a particular focus on the relationship between retailers and their suppliers. FMCG retail was already examined by the Commission back in 2009-2012 through several anti-trust proceedings conducted in this sector. Nevertheless, the Commission seems to be willing to revisit the market conditions, developments and relationships in retail. The announcement is available in English at http://www.kzk.gov.rs/en/komisija-namerava-da-sprovede-analiz?lng=lat.
Finally, at the beginning of December, the President of the Commission, spoke at the meeting of the Subcommittee on Internal Market and Competition at the DG COMP held in Brussels. President Obradović used the opportunity to point out that the potential industries which could be subjected to further sector inquiries include pharmaceutical, retail and gas markets as these are the markets that “have in the past already sparked the interest of the Commission, subject to the proceedings, or on the basis of information which point to the fact that the current situation could cause competition concerns of the Commission”. An overview of the event (in English) is available on the Commission’s website at http://www.kzk.gov.rs/en/predsednik-komisije-govorio-na-sastanku-pododbora-za-unutrasnje-trziste-i-konkurenciju-evropske-komisije-u-briselu.
When conducting a sector inquiry, the Commission has broad competencies. It usually sends out detailed information requests or requests for an opinion to various undertakings and stakeholders involved in a particular industry, including industry associations, public authorities, suppliers or customers of the market players. Sector inquiries are usually supported by appropriate economic analysis of certain issues. This practically means that the Commission might require undertakings to provide information, statements or documents (including agreements, internal decisions or communication etc.). It is advisable to respond to the Commission’s requests for information diligently and with due care.
In its previous inquiries, the Commission generally tried to get an overview of the competitive conditions in the market (the main players, their market shares and the general market practices) and to identify any concerns and define recommendations and guidelines of good practices. A sector inquiry does not necessarily mean that any irregularities would be identified or that any proceedings would be initiated against any undertakings; it simply signals a more pronounced focus on the industry by the national competition authorities.