Antitrust body to aid DA in onion cartel probe

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Competition Comission (PCC) will help the Department of Agriculture in investigating the alleged cartel that has allegedly barred onion farmers in Nueva Ecija from using cold storage facilities. 

In a statement on Friday, March 29, the PCC said it was ready to sign a memorandum of agreement with the DA to formalize its assistance in the probe.

"PCC will look at the alleged refusal of storage access to onion farmers in favor of large traders and will also evaluate if there are business agreements that are anticompetitive or enablers of cartelistic behavior," the PCC said in its statement.

"Specifically, [the] PCC will examine whether there are competition concerns in the onion industry such as restriction of storage space or price manipulation by cartels, or whether the storage concerns are natural consequences of supply conditions," it added.

The antitrust body also said that any firm engaged in cartels will be fined from P100 million to P250 million, and face imprisonment of up to 7 years. 

PCC also said that the DA is still free to either allow or suspend importation, as this does not cover their mandate. 

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol recently said that the DA would suspend onion importation amid the bumper harvest.

Piñol had also aired his suspicion that a cartel was behind the inability of farmers to use cold storage facilities for their crops, to force them to sell their crops to traders at a lower price. –