BRUSSELS, June 8 (Reuters) - Regulators are close to fining a group of 13 companies, which includes Finnish packager Huhtamaki, charged with taking part in a cartel nearly three years ago, the European Union's antitrust chief said on Monday.
The European Commission sent charge sheets to 13 companies in September 2012, saying they may have fixed prices and allocated markets among themselves for up to eight years in breach of European Union rules.
The EU competition watchdog did not name the companies which make plastic trays for packaging fresh food such as meat and poultry for retail producers.
European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager told a European Parliamentary hearing in Strasbourg that the case was crucial for the food industry.
"On the food packaging, we are actually right now in terms of the final stages of investigating abuse of the market within food packaging because there seems to have been collusion in some European markets," she said.
Huhtamaki said in its 2014 annual report the Commission's charges concerned businesses in south-west Europe, north-west Europe and France between 2000 to 2008.
It said the annual net sales of the affected businesses, most of which it has either closed down or sold off in 2006 and 2010, totaled 40 to 50 million euros ($56.43 million).
Three Italian companies, two French, two German and a British firm were also among those charged in 2012, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters, declining to provide details.
The Commission can fine companies up to 10 percent of their global revenue for violating EU rules. ($1 = 0.8861 euros) (Reporting by Foo Yun Chee. Editing by Jane Merriman)