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European Commission publishes revised antitrust rules on vertical agreements

The EU Vertical Block Exemption Regulation (VBER) exempts certain categories of vertical arrangement (agreements between businesses at different levels of the supply chain) from the prohibition on anti-competitive agreements.

It, with its associated guidelines, is intended to help businesses self-assess as to whether their vertical arrangements comply with EU antitrust law. The VBER is due to expire on 31 May 2022 in both the EU and the UK, where it was retained into UK law post-Brexit.

Both the EU and the UK have now set out their replacement vertical toolkits. The European Commission has published the final revised VBER, with accompanying updated Guidelines on Vertical Restraints. In the UK, the current VBER will be replaced by the Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Order, plus guidance issued by the Competition and Markets Authority (see our previous alert), which is currently in draft form and due to be finalised shortly. Crucially, from 1 June 2022, the EU and UK antitrust authorities will no longer apply the same rules and guidance to vertical arrangements.

Important changes have been made to both sets of rules. While the rules are broadly in line with each other, there are some significant differences between them. Our alert highlights the key EU changes and comments on the extent to which the new UK rules are consistent with, or diverge from, the revised EU rules.