Australis considering legal action over alleged aquafeed price-fixing
Santiago, Chile-based salmon farmer Australis Seafoods is seeking sanctions against the participants in alleged price-fixing scheme affecting the prices of aquafeed sold in Chile, and is evaluating initiating actions to demand compensation.
At the end of 2019, the Chilean National Economic Prosecutor's Office (FNE) accused four salmon aquafeed producers – BioMar Chile SA, Comercializadora Nutreco Chile Limitada (Skretting), EWOS Chile Alimentos Limitada, and Vitapro Chile SA (Salmo Food) – of actively working together in colluding to fix prices of fishmeal and fish oil between 2003 and 2015. At the time, FNE requested antitrust court TDLC to levy the maximum penalty of around USD 70 million (EUR 63.3 million) total for three of the companies’ transgressions, or around CLP 17.86 billion (USD 23.8 million, EUR 21.3 million) for each one. FNE exempted EWOS, owned by U.S. feed giant Cargill, in its request for punishment, as the company was the first to present evidence of the price-fixing scheme and is protected as a whistleblower.
Australis Seafoods recently requested status as a third-party intervener, which the TDLC accepted, as the salmon farmer was directly affected by the anticompetitive conduct alleged by FNE.
“This is a step-by-step process: first, we will seek to determine [wrongdoing] and sanction in the area of free competition. Once that happens, it is very likely that the company will initiate the corresponding compensation actions. The decision related to other potential actions will be made based on the judicially established facts,” Australis Seafoods’ legal representative José Miguel Gana told local publication SalmonExpert.
There is certainty about the existence of economic damage, he added, with the specific amount to be determined and for which third-party studies are likely to be commissioned.
Australis “is a company that for years has been contractually linked with salmon feed companies based on the trust and understanding that the commercial conditions applied were the result of competition and all that this implies, without knowing about the collusion that was maintained for years,” Gana said.
“Based on this, and once the serious facts come to light as required by this request, we consider that it is our duty to actively and decisively intervene to have these deeds sanctioned,” he added.
The accused firms have for the most part declined to comment publicly on the accusations, citing restrictions created by the ongoing legal process. Skretting has denied the allegations and said it plans to challenge the charges filed by FNE.
In June 2019, Australis was acquired for USD 922 million (EUR 837 million) by the Joyvio Group, a subsidiary of Legend Holding, one of the largest companies in China.