Competition Bureau investigates allegations of bread price fixing

TORONTO — An investigation by the Competition Bureau into allegations of price fixing of packaged bread products comes as demand for the pantry staple faces pressure from health-conscious consumers and heightened competition from discount retailers.John Williams, a partner at retail consulting company J.C. Williams Group, called the probe “shocking” given that Canada’s major retailers are governed by very-well defined codes of ethics.He also noted that the bread industry has been in “turmoil” as consumers look for healthier or artisan versions of the food staple, while increased competition from discount retailers also puts pressure on prices.“It now has almost become a fashion item… Huge aisles of white bread are slowly shrinking,” Williams said.The Competition Bureau said Tuesday that the Ontario Superior Court in Ottawa granted search warrants “based on evidence that there are reasonable grounds to believe that certain individuals and companies have engaged in activities contrary to the Competition Act.”Bureau spokeswoman Marie-France Faucher said it was conducting the searches and gathering evidence to determine the facts, but that there has been no conclusion of wrongdoing at this time and no charges have been laid.Faucher added that she could not reveal more details as the bureau is required to conduct investigations confidentially.Shares of Canada’s major grocers were little changed on Wednesday, a day after several confirmed they were aware of and co-operating with the probe.Loblaw Companies Ltd. and George Weston Ltd. released a joint statement late Tuesday confirming they were aware of and co-operating fully with an industry-wide investigation, but declined to comment further. Metro Inc. also put out a statement saying the investigation concerns certain suppliers and Canadian retailers, and that it was fully co-operating.Canada Bread said in a statement “it has been informed it is included in an industry-wide investigation by the Competition Bureau into pricing conduct dating back to 2001. The company is co-operating fully.”A spokesman for Walmart Canada said Wednesday that it is providing “full co-operation” to the bureau and it “takes its legal obligations very seriously.”Canada’s Competition Act prohibits agreements that “prevent or unduly lessen competition or to unreasonably enhance the price of a product,” according to the bureau.That could include agreements between competitors to fix prices, or to restrict production of a product by setting quotas or other means would be considered cartel activities. Penalties for price fixing could include fines of up to $10 million, imprisonment to a maximum term of five years, or both.However, the bureau says price-fixing conspiracies are, by their nature, difficult to detect and prove.“Suspicions and evidence of identical prices are not enough to prove a criminal offence,” the bureau says on its website.The Competition Bureau has in recent years examined price-fixing or deceptive pricing of a variety of products, including e-books, mattresses and chocolate. read more


Senior UN official urges confidencebuilding measures to counter global insecurity

“Throughout the history of UN efforts in disarmament, efforts to eliminate weapons of mass destruction have been pursued in parallel with efforts to regulate and reduce conventional arms. This is because they are mutually reinforcing goals,” High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane told the opening of the annual three-week session of the UN Disarmament Commission (UNDC) in New York.The Commission, whose membership is universal, is a deliberative body mandated to make recommendations in the field of disarmament and to follow up the decisions and recommendations of the General Assembly’s first special session devoted to disarmament, in 1978.The Commission itself was created through Resolution 502 in 1952 due to the General Assembly’s “anxiety as the general lack of confidence plaguing the world and leading to the burden on increasing armaments and the fear of war,” Ms. Kane read. She said the world continues to face a “lack of confidence” today, which feeds instability in the Middle East, South Asia and North-east Asia, while underlying expansion of military budgets and accounting for deeply divided votes in the General Assembly on issues related to disarmament, among others. The first item on the Commission’s agenda concerns non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. In her speech, Ms. Kane said an agreement during this session would help establish a new consensus on nuclear disarmament when the Commission concludes its three-year cycle in 2014. She added that such an outcome would be a “tremendous achievement” given the timing of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and the stalemate in recent years within the UN Conference on Disarmament, the world’s sole multilateral disarmament negotiating forum.The Commission is also due to discuss confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons. Ms. Kane told participants that they have an opportunity “to build on the recent progress made last month in negotiating the Arms Trade Treaty.”Member States failed to adopt the treaty last week after two-weeks of negotiations in New York. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was deeply disappointed but remained optimistic that Member States will continue exploring ways to bring the treaty into being.Among confidence-building measures related to transparency, Ms. Kane noted that the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs maintains the UN Report on Military Expenditures, along with an electronic database of information known as the UN Register of Conventional Arms.Ms. Kane encouraged Member States to use these tools “precisely because of their value in building the indispensable confidence needed to strengthen international peace and security.”Between 1979 and 1999, the Commission was able to reach consensus at least 16 times to adopt guidelines or recommendations on disarmament subjects. It has not adopted any new guidelines since 1999. Ms. Kane noted that history will judge the Commission not by the quantity of its work but the quality of its outcomes. She also urged Member States to revive the productivity of the Commission as an international resource for cultivating “seeds of future global disarmament norms – guidelines, standards, and recommendations that someday have the potential to flourish into customary practices.” read more