This document is an excerpt from the EUR-Lex website
Exemption for vertical supply and distribution agreements
WHAT IS THE AIM OF THE REGULATION AND OF ARTICLE 101 TFEU?
Article 101(1) TFEU prohibits agreements that may affect trade between EU countries and which prevent, restrict or distort competition. However, agreements which create sufficient benefits to outweigh the anti-competitive effects are exempt from this prohibition under Article 101(3) TFEU.
The regulation gives a block exemption from Article 101(1) TFEU to vertical agreements* which fulfil certain requirements. These agreements may, for instance, help a manufacturer to enter a new market, or avoid the situation whereby one distributor ‘free rides’ on the promotional efforts of another distributor, or allow a supplier to depreciate an investment made for a particular client.
Requirements for application of the regulation
Certain requirements must be fulfilled before a particular vertical agreement is exempt from Article 101(1) TFEU:
There are 5 restrictions that lead to the exclusion of the whole agreement from the benefit of the regulation, even if the market shares of the supplier and buyer are below 30%. They are considered to be severe restrictions of competition because of the likely harm they cause to consumers. In most cases they will be prohibited and it is considered unlikely that vertical agreements containing them fulfil the conditions of Article 101(3) TFEU:
suppliers are not allowed to fix the (minimum) price at which distributors can resell their products (resale price maintenance);
market-partitioning by territory or by customer is prohibited. Distributors must remain free to decide where and to whom they sell. The regulation contains exceptions to this rule, which, for instance, enable companies to operate an exclusive distribution system or a selective distribution system;
selected distributors, while being prohibited to sell to unauthorised distributors, cannot be restricted in the end-users to whom they may sell;
selected distributors must remain free to sell or purchase the contract goods to or from other selected distributors within the network;
an agreement between a manufacturer of spare parts and a buyer which incorporates these parts into its own products may not prevent or restrict sales by the manufacturer of these spare parts to end-users, independent repairers or service providers.
The 30% market share cap
A vertical agreement is covered by this regulation if neither the supplier nor the buyer of the goods or services has a market share exceeding 30%. For the supplier, it is its market share on the relevant supply market, i.e. the market on which it sells the goods or services that is decisive for the application of the block exemption. For the buyer, it is its market share on the relevant purchase market, i.e. the market on which it purchases the goods or services, which is decisive for the application of the regulation.
The excluded restrictions
The regulation applies to all vertical restraints other than those mentioned above. However, it does impose specific conditions on 3 vertical restraints:
When these conditions are not fulfilled, these vertical restraints are excluded from the exemption by the regulation. However, the regulation continues to apply to the remaining part of the vertical agreement if that part can operate independently from the non-exempted vertical restraints.
FROM WHEN DOES THE REGULATION APPLY?
It has applied since 1 June 2010 and will expire on 31 May 2022.
For more information, see:
Commission Regulation (EU) No 330/2010 of 20 April 2010 on the application of Article 101(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to categories of vertical agreements and concerted practices (OJ L 102, 23.4.2010, pp. 1-7)
Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union — Part Three — Union policies and internal actions — Title VII — Common rules on competition, taxation and approximation of laws — Chapter 1 — Rules on competition — Section 1 — Rules applying to undertakings — Article 101 (ex Article 81 TEC) (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, pp. 88-89)
Guidelines on Vertical Restraints (OJ C 130, 19.5.2010, pp. 1-46)
last update 08.05.2020