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UK to suspend competition law for parts of fuel sector to enable supply

  • United Kingdom
  • Competition, EU and Trade

28-09-2021

 

The UK Government has issued a joint statement with various players in the UK fuel sector confirming that the Government will temporarily exempt the industry from UK competition law for the purpose of sharing information to prioritise delivery of fuel.  The measure, known as The Downstream Oil Protocol, implements pre-existing contingency plans to deal with ensuring supply in the event of a “serious disruption”.

The joint statement reiterated the position outlined by the Government and industry over the last week that there is sufficient fuel at refineries to meet overall UK demand, but there have been issues with supply chains which, coupled with sharp increases in consumer demand, have led to acute fuel shortages at petrol stations.

The full details of the Protocol have not yet been published but the joint statement explains that it will make it easier for the industry to share information, so that they can more easily prioritise the delivery of fuel to the parts of the country and strategic locations that are most in need. Under normal circumstances, information of this kind would be considered highly strategic and competition sensitive, the exchange of which between competitors would almost certainly constitute a serious infringement of competition law. 

As the Protocol has not (yet) been published it is unclear what specific conduct will be exempted.  However, whilst it is generally uncommon for Governments to issue competition law exemptions, the UK (and a number of competition authorities in Europe) issued several exemptions during the coronavirus pandemic (see our previous article "Coronavirus – Commission issues competition framework for co-ordination of essential scarce products - Europe" by way of example) to ensure continuity of supply for scarce goods and services.  Those exemptions (or guidance notes) were drafted narrowly and continually assessed, to ensure that the parties did not collaborate more than was necessary to deal with the crisis.  Accordingly, it may be that the Protocol is limited by time, to apply to specific named parties and/or only to cover specific topics.

For further information on these unfolding developments and their implications for you and your business, please contact: