Define: Primary-Line Competition

Primary-Line Competition
Primary-Line Competition
Quick Summary of Primary-Line Competition

Primary-line competition, also known as horizontal competition, refers to the competition between businesses that offer similar products or services to the same target market. For instance, two pizza restaurants located in the same neighbourhood are in primary-line competition as they both offer pizza to people who want to eat pizza. Similarly, two clothing stores that sell similar styles of clothing to the same demographic are also in primary-line competition. In these examples, the businesses are directly competing with each other and must differentiate themselves to attract customers

What is the dictionary definition of Primary-Line Competition?
Dictionary Definition of Primary-Line Competition

Primary-line competition, also known as horizontal competition, occurs when companies that produce similar products or provide similar services compete against each other. This competition involves a race to determine which company can achieve the highest sales or be the top performer in the market.

Full Definition Of Primary-Line Competition

Primary-line competition pertains to competitive practices that occur between businesses at the same level of the production or distribution chain. In the context of antitrust or competition law, primary-line competition involves actions taken by one company that directly impact its competitors, often through pricing strategies. This overview will delve into the legal framework governing primary-line competition, focusing on the principles, notable case law, and regulatory approaches within the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Legal Framework

The Competition Act 1998

In the United Kingdom, primary-line competition issues are primarily governed by the Competition Act 1998. This act aligns UK competition law with European Union competition principles, ensuring consistency across jurisdictions. The key provisions relevant to primary-line competition include:

  1. Chapter I Prohibition: This prohibits agreements between undertakings, decisions by associations of undertakings, and concerted practices that prevent, restrict, or distort competition within the UK.
  2. Chapter II Prohibition: This prohibits the abuse of a dominant position by one or more undertakings within the UK, which is directly relevant to primary-line competition concerns.

European Union Law

At the EU level, primary-line competition is regulated under Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

  1. Article 101 TFEU: This article prohibits agreements that have the effect of preventing, restricting, or distorting competition within the internal market.
  2. Article 102 TFEU: This article addresses the abuse of a dominant position within the internal market or a substantial part of it.

Key Concepts in Primary-Line Competition

Market Definition

Understanding the relevant market is crucial in primary-line competition cases. Market definition includes both the product market and the geographic market:

  • Product Market: Defines the range of products or services that are considered interchangeable by consumers due to their characteristics, prices, and intended use.
  • Geographic Market: Refers to the area in which the undertakings are involved in the supply and demand of products or services, where the conditions of competition are sufficiently homogeneous.

Dominant Position

A dominant position refers to a situation where a company has significant market power, allowing it to behave independently of competitors, customers, and ultimately consumers. The assessment of dominance involves:

  1. Market Share: A high market share is a primary indicator of dominance.
  2. Barriers to Entry: High barriers to entry can sustain a dominant position.
  3. Market Power: The ability to influence market conditions, prices, and output.

Types of Primary-Line Competition Concerns

Predatory Pricing

Predatory pricing occurs when a dominant company sets its prices below cost to eliminate competitors and subsequently raises prices to recoup losses. The legal assessment involves:

  1. Pricing Below Cost: Typically, prices must be below average variable cost (AVC) or average total cost (ATC).
  2. Intent to Eliminate Competition: Evidence of an intent to eliminate competition or a realistic expectation that the predatory pricing will enable the company to recoup its losses.

Margin Squeeze

A margin squeeze happens when a vertically integrated firm with a dominant position in the upstream market sets its downstream prices at such a level that downstream competitors cannot compete effectively. This involves:

  1. Price-Cost Margin: Assessing whether the margin between the upstream and downstream prices is sufficient to cover the costs of an equally efficient competitor.
  2. Foreclosure Effects: The impact on competition in the downstream market, leading to foreclosure of competitors.

Case Law

AKZO Chemie BV v Commission (1991)

One of the landmark cases on predatory pricing in the EU is the AKZO Chemie BV v Commission. In this case, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) established the principles for assessing predatory pricing:

  1. Pricing Below AVC: Prices below AVC are presumed to be predatory.
  2. Pricing Below ATC: Prices below ATC but above AVC are considered predatory if intended to eliminate competition.

Post Danmark A/S v Konkurrencerådet (2012)

This case further clarified the legal standards for predatory pricing. The ECJ highlighted:

  1. Cost Benchmarks: Use of average incremental cost (AIC) and long-run average incremental cost (LRAIC) as benchmarks.
  2. Objective Justification: Possibility of objective justification for prices below cost, such as promotional pricing or matching competitors’ prices.

TeliaSonera Sverige AB v Konkurrensverket (2011)

In the TeliaSonera case, the ECJ addressed margin squeeze practices. The court emphasized:

  1. Equally Efficient Competitor Test: The need to assess whether an equally efficient competitor can compete at the margin provided by the dominant firm.
  2. Objective Justification: The dominant firm must prove any objective justification for its pricing practices.

Regulatory Approach

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)

In the UK, the CMA is the primary authority responsible for enforcing competition law. The CMA has broad powers to investigate and penalize anti-competitive practices, including:

  1. Market Investigations: In-depth investigations into markets where competition may not be working well.
  2. Enforcement Actions: Investigating and imposing fines for breaches of competition law.
  3. Guidance and Advocacy: Providing guidance on competition law compliance and advocating for competitive markets.

European Commission

At the EU level, the European Commission plays a pivotal role in enforcing competition law. Its responsibilities include:

  1. Investigations: Conducting investigations into suspected breaches of competition law.
  2. Decisions and Fines: Issuing decisions and imposing fines on undertakings found to have violated competition rules.
  3. Merger Control: Assessing mergers and acquisitions to prevent anti-competitive concentrations.

Recent Developments

Digital Markets

The rise of digital markets has introduced new challenges for primary-line competition enforcement. Issues such as platform dominance, network effects, and data control are increasingly relevant. Authorities are adapting their approaches to address these challenges, as seen in cases against major tech companies like Google and Amazon.


Brexit has significant implications for competition law in the UK. While the UK remains committed to maintaining robust competition law principles, there may be divergences from EU law over time. The CMA has taken on increased responsibilities post-Brexit, particularly in cross-border cases.


Primary-line competition is a fundamental aspect of competition law, addressing the conduct of businesses at the same level of the production or distribution chain. The legal framework in the UK and EU provides robust mechanisms to address anti-competitive practices such as predatory pricing and margin squeeze. Notable case law has shaped the principles and enforcement approaches, ensuring that competition remains fair and effective.

The dynamic nature of markets, especially with the advent of digital platforms, continues to pose challenges and necessitates adaptive regulatory responses. As the UK navigates its post-Brexit landscape, the enforcement of competition law remains a critical priority to safeguard consumer welfare and maintain competitive markets.

Primary-Line Competition FAQ'S

Primary-line competition refers to the situation where multiple companies compete directly with each other in the same market, offering similar products or services to the same customer base.

Yes, primary-line competition is generally legal as long as companies compete fairly and do not engage in anti-competitive practices such as price-fixing or collusion.

Yes, primary-line competition can sometimes lead to price wars as companies try to attract customers by offering lower prices. However, price wars can have negative consequences for the companies involved and may not be sustainable in the long run.

Primary-line competition is actually a deterrent to monopolies as it promotes a competitive market environment. However, if one company gains a significant advantage over others and starts dominating the market, it could potentially lead to a monopoly situation.

Yes, primary-line competition is subject to various regulations, including antitrust laws, which aim to prevent anti-competitive behavior and protect fair competition in the market.

While companies can collaborate in certain areas, such as research and development or joint marketing efforts, they must be cautious not to engage in anti-competitive practices that could harm competition or consumers.

Yes, primary-line competition often leads to companies differentiating their products or services to stand out from their competitors. This can result in a wider range of options for consumers.

Yes, primary-line competition generally benefits consumers as it encourages companies to offer better quality products, lower prices, and improved customer service to attract and retain customers.

While primary-line competition itself is not a basis for lawsuits, companies may file lawsuits against each other if they believe their competitors are engaging in unfair or anti-competitive practices.

To stay competitive in primary-line competition, companies need to focus on factors such as product innovation, customer satisfaction, effective marketing strategies, and efficient operations to differentiate themselves from their competitors and attract customers.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 8th June 2024.

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