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EU regulators say farmers can form cartels under certain conditions

An olive farmer fills up a vat with freshly extracted Verdale olive oil at the "Moulin Fanouse" in Mirabel aux Barronnies in southern France December 8, 2006. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

BRUSSELS - Farmers can set up cartels to jointly sell olive oil, beef and veal without flouting antitrust rules as long as their market share does not exceed 20 percent, EU competition regulators said on Friday.

The European Commission said the new guidelines would strengthen farmers' competitiveness in a sector worth more than 80 billion euros (£56.3 billion) annually in Europe.

In addition to sales, the groups must also provide storage, transport and distribution facilities to the farmers, the EU executive said.

It said the volumes marketed by the groups must not exceed 20 percent of the market for olive oil and 15 percent of the national market for beef, veal or arable crops.

"The objective is to ensure that European farmers can work together to remain competitive and benefit from bargaining power towards the buyers," European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

The new rules were drafted following a consultation from January to May this year.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Catherine Evans and Jason Neely)