(Adds case details, context, comments from industry group,
SAO PAULO Nov 23 Brazil's antitrust agency Cade
said on Wednesday it has settled a 17-year-old case against
Brazilian orange juice producers accused of colluding to reduce
prices paid to farmers.
Cade settled with juice producers Cutrale, Citrovita,
Coinbra (Louis Dreyfus Co), Fischer, Cargill
, Bascitrus and industry group Abecitrus, along with
nine individuals involved in the cartel case. They will pay a
combined 301 million reais ($89 million) to end the probe.
It was the agency's oldest case, with an investigation
starting in 1999 after complaints from independent fruit
producers regarding juice makers' buying practices. Brazil is
the world's largest orange juice producer and exporter,
representing half of the juice sold worldwide.
"They admitted participation in the conduct being
investigated, pledged to end those practices and cooperated with
Cade to elucidate the facts," the antitrust body said in a
According to Cade, the companies also agreed to withdraw
several lawsuits that have blocked the probe's progress in the
The Brazilian orange juice industry has undergone
significant consolidation since the start of the case.
Cargill left the business in 2004, when it sold its
operations in the country to Cutrale and Citrosuco.
Citrosuco later merged with Fischer and along with Cutrale
and Louis Dreyfus currently dominate the sector in Brazil.
The settlement was criticized by Associtrus, which
represents most independent orange producers.
"The payment was disproportionate to the losses imposed by
the cartel to the farmers," Associtrus head Flavio Viegas said.
Ibiapaba Neto, director of CitrusBR, which replaced
Abecitrus in representing Brazil's orange juice industry, said
the case was an old issue, but the easing in the relationship
between industries and independent growers is beneficial to the
($1 = 3.38 reais)
(Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira, Ana Mano and Gustavo Bonato;
Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)