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EU Commission Fines Styrene Over Cartel Activity

 |  November 29, 2022

The European Commission has fined Sunpor, Synbra, Synthomer, Synthos and Trinseo a total of €157 million for participating in a cartel concerning purchases on the styrene monomer merchant market. INEOS was not fined as it revealed the cartel to the Commission under the leniency programme. All six companies admitted their involvement in the cartel and agreed to settle the case.

The product concerned by the cartel is styrene monomer (‘styrene’), which is an intermediate chemical product that serves as a key input for many other chemicals, such as plastics, resins, rubbers and latexes.

Related: EU Targets Conserve Italia For Cartel Activity In Canned Goods

The six buyers of styrene exchanged sensitive commercial information and coordinated their negotiation strategy on an industry reference price of styrene (the Styrene Monthly Contract Price or ‘SMCP’). The SMCP was widely used as a reference price in the industry and often formed part of the pricing formula in styrene supply agreements.

Unlike in most cartels where companies conspire to increase their sales prices, the six companies colluded to lower an element of the price of styrene. In particular, the companies coordinated their price negotiation strategies prior to and during the bilateral SMCP ‘settlement’ negotiations with styrene sellers to influence the SMCP to their advantage. They also exchanged price-related information prior to and during their negotiations with styrene sellers. These practices are prohibited by the EU competition rules because they distort the competitive process, which should be based on individual decisions of market participants.

The Commission’s investigation revealed the existence of a single and continuous infringement in the European Economic Area, spanning from 1 May 2012 to 30 June 2018.