The current Vertical Agreement Block Exemption Regulation (VBER) and its accompanying guidelines provide the framework of competition law regulation for suppliers and distributors across the EU. It is due to expire in May 2022. The VBER was retained into UK law following Brexit ensuring consistency of the rules in the UK and EU until May 2022. You can see our latest analysis on the future of the VBER here.
Both the UK’s CMA and the EU Commission have launched public consultations to collect stakeholders view on what the new regulations should look like. This give companies and trade bodies impacted by the rules a chance to have their voices heard on areas which need addressing. For instance, the legality of marketplace bans beyond selective distribution networks, as well as more guidance on MFNs are just a few areas in dire need of more guidance. Another area high up on the agenda include how vertical relationships have evolved in respect of online platforms.
EU Commission consultation
On the back of its e-commerce enquiry in 2017 and more recently the publication of its Evaluation working paper, the EU Commission is seeking contributions from companies with business operations in the EU including suppliers, distributors, retailers, platforms active in e-commerce, industry associations and consumer organisations.
The contributions should be made through an online questionnaire, which is open until 26 March 2021. To participate, stakeholders will need to register on the EU transparency Register, a database of organisations which participate in the law making and policy implementation process of the EU institutions. It makes visible what interests are being pursued, by whom and with what budgets.
UK CMA roundtable
In the UK, the CMA has announced that it will be holding roundtables in spring 2021 allowing interested parties to share their views. In particular, the CMA welcomes input from (i) businesses with operations in the UK who rely on the retained VBER (namely suppliers and distributors of goods and services as well as platforms active in e-commerce) (ii) industry associations, and (iii) consumer organisations with an interest in the UK market. This will be followed by a consultation on the CMA’s proposed recommendation to the Secretary of State in the Summer of 2021 and the CMA’s final recommendation to the Secretary of State in Autumn 2021.
Interestingly, on its case page, the CMA states that stakeholders’ view would supplement the evidence obtained during the European Commission’s review. This indicates that it will use the Commission’s findings to feed into its own review. This is perhaps not unexpected given the amount of work put in by the Commission and the emphasis the CMA has put on continued collaboration post Brexit. It nonetheless implies a desire to build a UK regime which remains consistent with the EU’s approach.
If you are interested in participating in either consultation or would like more information please reach out to our competition team for more details.