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Abstract

After a short presentation of EU and Italian antitrust legislation, this paper examines two recent cases of intervention by the Italian Antitrust Authority (IAA) in the agricultural sector, both dealing with high quality food products requiring a long aging process: two similar kinds of cheese in the first case, 'Parmigiano-Reggiano' and 'Grana Padano', and two hams in the second one, 'Prosciutto di Parma' and 'Prosciutto di S. Daniele'. Recently, all these products have obtained the 'Protected Designation of Origin' according to EU Regulation n. 2081/1992. In both cases, the IAA argued that the existing agreements aimed at programming total supply for each product by means of quotas applied to each individual producer were illegal as well as other collusive behaviors such as price fixing for buying price of fresh meat. The paper also analyzes the key characteristics of these very specific food chains in order to better understand these markets and to discuss both decisions. It is argued that the IAA has taken its decisions more on a 'per se' approach, which in these cases seems to be inappropriate. A more detailed economic analysis, together with the adoption of a 'rule of reason' approach would have suggested different and to some extent opposite decisions. Moreover, the analysis shows that the actual functioning of these markets is not able to stimulate economic agents of these food chains to properly coordinate their production activities in order to reduce or eliminate the cyclical trends of quantity and wholesale prices, which have negative effects both on agricultural and industrial producers and on consumers.

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