EU competition law and exclusive distribution agreements
Produced in partnership with Suzanne Rab

The following Competition practice note produced in partnership with Suzanne Rab provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • EU competition law and exclusive distribution agreements
  • Relationship with other forms of exclusive dealing
  • Application of the Vertical Restraints Block Exemption to exclusive distribution
  • Territorial restrictions
  • Customer restrictions
  • Position if the Vertical Restraints Block Exemption does not apply
  • Worked examples
  • Exclusive distribution and restrictions on passive sales
  • Self-assessment of exclusive distribution under Article 101(3) TFEU
  • Exclusive distribution and Article 102 TFEU
  • More...

EU competition law and exclusive distribution agreements

The Guidelines on Vertical Restraints explain that '[i]n an exclusive distribution agreement, the supplier agrees to sell its products to only one distributor for resale in a particular territory.' The Guidelines on Vertical Restraints explain that the possible competition risks with exclusive distribution are mainly reduced intra-brand competition and market partitioning, which may facilitate price discrimination in particular. Exclusive distribution may lead to foreclosure of other distributors and reduce competition at that level. When most or all of the suppliers apply exclusive distribution, this may soften competition and facilitate collusion.

It is always important to consider all other agreements and arrangements in a network (in particular if one or more impose territorial and/or customer restrictions) when assessing the application of the VRBE to an exclusive distribution agreement.

See further, Analysing vertical agreements under competition law, The Vertical Restraints Block Exemption. For a checklist setting out the key steps in assessing vertical agreements, see Vertical agreements—checklist.

Relationship with other forms of exclusive dealing

Exclusive distribution should be distinguished from other forms of exclusive dealing including:

  1. exclusive customer allocation—this where the supplier agrees to sell its products to only one distributor for resale to a particular group of customers. At the same time, the distributor is usually limited in its active selling to other (exclusively allocated) groups of customers

  2. exclusive purchasing—this is where

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