13 November 2013

OFT closes Chapter II investigation

On 31 October 2013 the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) announced that it had closed its investigation into allegations that bunker fuel network operator CH Jones had abused a dominant position. The investigation commenced in 2010 following complaints by rival bunker network operator UK Fuels that CH Jones had sought to foreclose UK Fuels’ access to independent fuel site operators via the use of exclusive contracts.The OFT issued a Statement of Objections in February 2011 provisionally finding that CH Jones held a dominant position and that its use of exclusive contracts with fuel sites constituted an abuse of that position. This conclusion rested on the OFT’s identification of a narrow relevant product market comprising only bunker fuel cards that allow hauliers to access fuel purchased on the wholesale markets from a network of independent truck stop sites. CH Jones’ response focused on product market definition, demonstrating the constraint on bunker fuel cards from pay-as-you-go fuel cards supplied by the oil majors.Following consideration of CH Jones’ submissions and a review of the market evidence the OFT concluded that the narrow product market for bunker fuel cards could not be supported, and so that CH Jones could not be shown to hold a dominant position.RBB Economics assisted CH Jones and its legal advisors Faegre Baker Daniels in responding to the OFT’s Statement of Objections, including the production of an expert report on confidential market evidence made available via an OFT data room. RBB also presented a critique of the OFT’s market definition analysis during an oral hearing.

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