car·​tel | \ kär-ˈtel How to pronounce cartel (audio) \

Definition of cartel

1 : a written agreement between belligerent nations
2 : a combination of independent commercial or industrial enterprises designed to limit competition or fix prices illegal drug cartels
3 : a combination of political groups for common action

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Did You Know?

A cartel is an organization of a few independent producers for the purpose of improving the profitability of the firms involved. This usually involves some restriction of output, control of price, and allocation of market shares. Members of a cartel generally maintain their separate identities and financial independence while engaging in cooperative policies. Cartels can either be domestic or international. Because cartels restrict competition and result in higher prices for consumers, they are outlawed in some countries. The only industry operating in the U.S. with a blanket exemption from the antitrust laws is major-league baseball.

Did You Know?

The literal meaning of Italian cartello, a derivative of carta, “leaf of paper,” is “placard.” The word is also used for a letter of defiance or a challenge. In this sense the Italian word was borrowed into Middle French as cartel, and the French word was borrowed into English. In English, a cartel was originally a letter of defiance. Later the word came to be used for a written agreement between warring nations to regulate such matters as the treatment and exchange of prisoners. Another type of agreement, a combination of commercial enterprises, is now called a cartel.

Examples of cartel in a Sentence

a cartel of oil-producing nations that controls production and influences prices
Recent Examples on the Web The slowdown caused the wholesale price of cocaine in Mexico to double, the cartel bookkeeper said in an interview in Culiacán, a city in northwestern Mexico where the organization is based. New York Times, "Hit Hard by the Pandemic, Mexico’s Drug Cartels Tweaked Their Playbook," 29 Dec. 2020 Unlike oil, gas doesn’t have a global cartel coordinating production to support prices if there is a glut. Rochelle Toplensky, WSJ, "Gas Is Cleaner Than Oil, But Still Has a Transition Problem," 24 Dec. 2020 Less than 10 days after the New York Times published an article about a Mexican mother who tracked down the cartel members who abducted and murdered her daughter, Blumhouse has scooped up the rights to the story. Tyler Aquilina,, "Blumhouse wins rights to New York Times story about mother who hunted her daughter's killers," 22 Dec. 2020 When Sinaloa cartel gunmen took over the city, López Obrador ordered him released. Washington Post, "As Mexico’s security deteriorates, the power of the military grows," 17 Dec. 2020 One of Le Carré’s best, the global drug cartel thriller moves seamlessly from a Zurich hotel back in time to a Cairo hotel and ahead again in the Bahamas. Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times, "10 ways of getting to know John le Carré," 14 Dec. 2020 So too did the increasingly wealthy and powerful Southeast Asian heroin cartel bosses who needed a place to launder their growing fortunes. Joshua Berlinger, CNN, "The Wan Chai connection: The Washington-accused drug lords, gun runners and dictators' financiers tied to one Hong Kong district," 10 Dec. 2020 The former Australian heads of Citigroup Inc. and Deutsche Bank AG are among six bankers who will stand trial on cartel-activity charges over a share sale by an Australian bank in 2015. Peter Vercoe,, "Ex-Citi, Deutsche Bank Australia Heads to Face Cartel Trial," 8 Dec. 2020 Mexican authorities arrested three La Linea drug cartel members in connection to the massacre in which nine American women and children were killed a little more than a year ago. Hollie Mckay, Fox News, "Top cartel leader, 2 other members arrested in connection to Mormon massacre," 25 Nov. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'cartel.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of cartel

1692, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for cartel

French, letter of defiance, from Old Italian cartello, literally, placard, from carta leaf of paper — more at card entry 1

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Time Traveler for cartel

Time Traveler

The first known use of cartel was in 1692

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Statistics for cartel

Last Updated

15 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Cartel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for cartel


How to pronounce cartel (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of cartel

: a group of businesses that agree to fix prices so they all will make more money

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