GATINEAU — Citing insufficient evidence, Canada’s Competition Bureau has closed an investigation into anti-competitive behaviour related to the supply of seeds, fertilizer and crop protection products to a farmers’ network group. After “careful review,” the Bureau has concluded the “evidence does not sufficiently demonstrate that an agreement exists between competitors in relation to” Farmers Business Network Canada Inc. (FBN), the Bureau reported March 15.
“Nonetheless, the evidence does suggest that certain market participants communicated with the goal of influencing suppliers with respect to FBN,” according to the Bureau, which says it views these communications — noting they occurred within a highly concentrated sector — as a “significant concern.”
It warns suppliers “should be aware that similar communications could create agreements that contravene the civil or criminal conspiracy provisions of the Competition Act depending on their terms.”
The Bureau opened a formal inquiry in October 2019 into claims a number of manufacturers and wholesalers disadvantaged, restricted, or blocked the supply of crop inputs to FBN in Canada. The FBN farm network and online buying system has a reported 30,000 members in Canada and the U.S.
The Bureau used court orders to compel the investigated companies to turn over relevant records and information. It says investigators sought to determine:
• if an agreement or arrangement against FBN existed between any of the targets of the investigation;
• if any of the targets abused a dominant position by acting with negative intent to exclude FBN from the market; and
• if any of the alleged conduct had or would likely, as a result, have substantially prevented or lessened competition.
The Bureau will continue to closely monitor the crop input industry for anti-competitive conduct and says it will take action should new evidence come to light.