In the General Interest

By Nicholas Harris
The 07/03/2019

Competitors & suppliers at the same table

People who participate in Cetie working group meetings for the first time may find it unsettling to sit down at the same table with their competitors, even though the aim of the meeting is clearly limited to generic technical subjects and to establish consensual reference documents that are in the general interest. The question is often posed more formally with larger companies, in particular for the experts from major groups with an Anglo-Saxon business culture, which generally have by necessity particularly strict internal policies to ensure respecting anti-trust requirements.

The richness of the discussions

It is nevertheless clear that companies do not participate in Cetie activities through altruism but because their own interests are at stake. By participating in the collective work, they help prevent bottling quality problems while at the same time ensuring that the issues more specific to the positioning of their company are addressed appropriately. The presence not only of their competitors but also of the other players in the chain, who may be their customers or suppliers, is a strong incentive to attend these working groups. Over and beyond the production of documents, the diversity of the attendance naturally fuels the richness of the discussions on the shared non-confidential issues, thereby improving each participant's understanding of the technical environment of the sector as a whole and helping to guide their development strategy.
Although establishing standards ultimately facilitates market functioning and economies of scale, it can also imply having to adapt existing industrial production methods, which entails costs. A dimensional specification for a bottle finish or cap implies corresponding production tooling representing what can be a very substantial investment. Consequently, a transition period that takes into account the pace of tooling renewal may be expressly indicated in the specification. In some cases where a degree of diversity in the dimensions of a component that still give a satisfactory result is observed, it may initially be necessary to give a range of values in the specification rather than a nominal value with a tolerance. This was the case for example with the data sheets concerning the aluminium ROPP caps before application – even if the tooling changes are not justified in the short term, this nevertheless encourages the manufacturers to gradually narrow the dimensional range and converge towards a median value that should represent a robust compromise. If the dimensional diversity that exists for a given application and context does not allow an approach based on a range of values, a compromise must be found in order to establish a single specification. The end result may effectively be closer to the situation that exists for some of the players, but procedures for selecting the future specifications and the fact that all the players are present guarantees that the jointly established standard cannot represent a hindrance to free competition.

Consolidating industrial experience

Standardisation generally consolidates existing, acknowledged industrial experience. It can however also serve to channel the development of new references in a collective approach. Typically, this involves coming to an agreement over an "experimental" specification in order to verify in industrial production results initially obtained in laboratory-scale tests. Involving all the participants in a collective development effort shortens the development times and optimises costs, knowing that, for example, the geometric details of a bottle finish do not normally constitute a competitively differentiating factor for the finished product. The "experimental" specification status is limited in time (1 year, renewable) and open to any relevant corrections resulting from the industrial tests. The procedure governing its adoption as a finalised specification is the same as for the other types of documents.
More specifically, regarding the regulatory framework, the Cetie working group meetings are held under what European Union regulations call "horizontal cooperation agreements".
The reference text is the Communication from the Commission 2011/C 11/01 – "Guidelines on the applicability of Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to horizontal cooperation agreements". Standardisation is covered by article 7.3.3 para. 280 of this document, which sets out the following principles (the passages in boldface are in boldface in the original):

“Where participation in standard-setting is unrestricted and the procedure for adopting the standard in question is transparent, standardisation agreements which contain no obligation to comply with the standard and provide access to the standard on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms will normally not restrict competition within the meaning of Article 101(1). ”

Cetie functions in accordance with these principles. Membership of and access to the working groups is open to all stakeholders in the bottling value chain. Our communication targets companies potentially concerned by the ongoing topics in order to ensure the effective participation of any stakeholder who so wishes.
The procedures governing the development of the documents by the working groups ensure the necessary transparency, and all the working group meeting agendas, presence sheets and minutes are available for consultation. Each document is submitted before publication to an enquiry by all the working groups potentially concerned and the way the votes and comments are taken into account is documented. Application of all Cetie reference documents is inherently voluntary (see L & C 396) and by principle, they involve no third-party intellectual property.
Cetie thus helps establish technical reference documents that serve the general interest of its members, of the bottling industries and of the general public.

N. Harris - Cetie General Secretary for french Magazine Liquides & Conditionnement N°398
PDF (FR) :
- Liquides & Conditionnement N°398 (FR)
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