Maple syrup cartel under pressure

FPAQThere is the oil cartel, OPEC, but little is written about FPAQ which is The Federation of Quebec Syrup Producers. The FPAQ was created in 1966 under the Professional Syndicates Act. Affiliated with Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), it’s mission is to defend the economic, social, and moral interests of Quebec’s 13,500 maple syrup producers who operate 7,300 maple syrup businesses in 12 regional maple syrup producers’ unions. Each producer is subject to a quota and any excess syrup is put into FPAQ’s stockpile, and producers only get paid for it when it is sold which can be years later. Between 2010 and 2014 Quebec accounted for 72% of world production – see graph.

The FPAQ’s intention is to keep prices high and stable by limiting supply of syrup on the market. However there are concerns about FPAQ’s long-term viability:

  • As with the oil industry the higher price has encouraged other suppliers to entry the market.
  • Across the border the US has increased its maple harvest from 7.2m litres in 2012 to 12m liters in 2014. This may mean cuts in members’ quotas and stockpiling more syrup to maintain a higher price.
  • With maple syrup becoming increasingly expensive substitutes are being sought in the from of toppings made from corn syrup.
  • Supply is outpacing demand and FPAQ’s strategic reserve has increased to 25m litres which is equivalent to one year’s sales.

Saudi Arabia has been able to drive high-cost oil producers out of business by allowing the price of oil to fall. However the FPAQ don’t really have this option as the operating costs for maple syrup plantations are very low and US producers are unlikely to cease production like the high-cost oil producers.

A barrel of maple syrup from Quebec is worth more today than a barrel of crude oil. Producers are reaping the benefits, but not all agree with the tactics that whipped the supply chain into shape. Below is a very good video from The New York Times.



Oligopolies – Casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City

Another great article from the Econz@Otago economics magazine. Having a look at the Casino industry in Las Vegas and Atlantic City we see a prevalent oligolistic market.

In 1969, the state of Nevada allowed financially well endowed companies to obtain gambling permits and subsequently within a couple of years huge resort-style casinos were built on the Las Vegas Strip. By 2008 24 of the largest casinos had captured approximately 84% of total Las Vegas casino revenues – NZ$8.03 billion which equates to 9% of NZ’s GDP in 2009.

In 1976, eager to gain the revenue from casinos, the state of New Jersey made gambling legal. Like Las Vegas the state required that only investors with large amounts of financial backing could operate and own gaming establishments. In the late 1990’s Atlantic City was on a par with Las Vegas regading revenue and similarly the industry was dominated by as few as 11 firms earning NZ$6.37 billion.

In both Las Vegas and Atlantic City the largest firms came to dominate the industry. The following were common features:

1. Economies of scale – a casino twice the size can accommodate more than twice the customers.
2. Economies of scope – larger casinos can supply a larger variety of facilities – hotels, night-clubs, shows etc.

With these characteristics firms can dominate and therefore operate in a oligopolistic market. The difference between the oligopoly that has emerged in Las Vegas and the one that has emerged in Atlantic City is the sea of smaller gambling establishments (called a competitive fringe) which continues to engulf the Las Vegas Strip. In Nevada, the gaming commission sets few restrictions on new casinos entering the industry whereas the size restrictions in New Jersey allows for only large establishments and bars small entrants.

Cartel Exposed by Commerce Commission

Last week, with my A2 class, I had a few discussions about oligopolies, game theory, and the existence of cartels. In the Weekend New Zealand Herald there was a very relevant article on the case of a cartel between 13 international airlines who had colluded to raise the price of freighting cargo by imposing fuel surcharges on cargo shipments into and out of New Zealand. The New Zealand Commerce Commission started proceedings against the 13 airlines in December 2008 and the price fixing period was between 2000 and 2006.

Of the 13 airlines there are some major carriers including: British Airways, Air NZ, Cathy Pacific, Emirates, Japan Airlines, Korean Airlines, Malaysian Airlines, Singapore.

Qantas admitted liability and agreed to a settlement of NZ$6.5m which is approximately a 50% discount for co-operating with the Commerce Commission. Other airlines that have settled are British Airways, Cargulox International Airlines. The price-fixing case starts in May and the main issue is what was the definition of a ‘market in New Zealand’ and if air cargo services inbound to New Zealand were part of such a market.

South Korean and Taiwanese firms run price cartel on TV screens

The EU competition watchdog fined one South Korean and four Taiwanese electronics companies more than $850m for colluding to fix prices on LCD screens for televisions and computers between 2001 and 2006. The companies involved include:
– LG Display (South Korea)
– AU Optronics
– Chimei InnoLux Corporation,
– Chunghwa Picture Tubes
– HannStar Display Corporation

“Foreign companies, like European ones, need to understand that if they want to do business in Europe they must play fair,” European competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in a statement. The EU found that the companies held monthly meetings, usually in hotels in Taiwan, to agree on price ranges and minimum prices. From the BBC – Dubbed “the Crystal meetings”, these traded information on future production planning, capacity utilisation, pricing and other commercial conditions. Competition regulators started investigating the cartel in 2006, in the United States and Asia as well as in Europe. LG and Chunghwa, along with Japanese firm Sharp, pleaded guilty in the United States and were fined there in November 2008.

A2 – Cartels: Theory and Practice – Airline Freight Cartel

With the A2 essay paper on Friday here is an example of a cartel that got caught. Remeber the theory behind cartels. A cartel operates in the Oligopoly market. It is a mistake to believe that ALL oligopolists face a KINKED DEMAND CURVE. Oligopolists may either:

b) COLLUDE (e.g. in cartels) or
c) PLAY SAFE (as in Kinked Demand Curve Theory)

Collusion in oligopoly
Where oligopolists agree formally or informally to limit competition between themselves they may set output quotas, fix prices, or limit product promotion or development. A formal collusive agreement is called a cartel. A cartel can achieve the same profits as if the industry were a monopoly. Covert (formal) collusion occurs where firms meet secretly and make decisions about prices or output. Tacit (informal) collusion is much more difficult to control. This is when firms act as if they have agreements in place without actually having communicated with each other.

Collusion between firms whether formal or informal is more likely when:

• there are only a few firms in the industry, so reaching an agreement is easier and any cheating can be spotted quickly.
• they have similar costs of production and methods of production making any agreement on price easier to reach.
• the firms produce similar products. Cartels have been common in industries such as cement production in recent years.
• the products have price inelastic demand meaning that a rise in price by the cartel will lead to a rise in sales revenue for the firms.
• the laws against collusion in a country are weak or ineffective.


Yesterday the European Commission fined 11 airlines almost 800m euros for fixing the price of air cargo between 1999 and 2006. The airlines colluded on some surcharges between December 1999 and February 2006.

* Initially, the airlines contacted each other so as to ensure that worldwide airfreight carriers imposed a flat rate surcharge per kilo for all shipments.
*The cartel members extended their co-operation by introducing a security surcharge and refusing to pay a commission on surcharges to their clients.

The Commission imposed the biggest fine – 340m euros – on Air France-KLM, which was formed from a merger in 2004 and which now owns Martinair, which was also fined (see table). Lufthansa escaped a fine because it alerted the regulatory authorities to the cartel. Obviously companies that used the freight service were affected by this therefore a group of firms, led by the Swedish telecoms group Ericsson and Dutch electronics giant Philips, are suing Air France-KLM and its Martinair subsidiary for 400m euros. (NZ$ = €0.56)