Patel not mincing words, diluting competition-law factors in mergers

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Economic Development Minister of South Africa, Ebrahim Patel, recently stated that the Competition Commission (“Commission”), South Africa’s key competition authority, will be asked to focus on jobs, industrialisation and small business development in lieu of ‘pure’ antitrust-law issues.

Patel stated that government would require the Industrial Development Corporation to focus on supporting black industrialists, and on the competition authorities to promote economic transformation “not as a by-product of but an explicit objective of competition policy.” According to Patel, competition bodies are in a position to contribute directly to the state’s objective of creating a more equal economy, where workers shared in the benefits of growth. His department is allegedly already in talks with the construction industry on a restitution package to redress collusion and price fixing. The end result, he stated, would be that larger companies will provide funds to support small producers and local suppliers.

Patel’s controversial views have already influenced Commission merger decisions and can clearly be seen in the recent Afgri/AgriGoupe case, where the authority entered into an agreement with the foreign buyer of the local grain and poultry company Afgri, requiring the new owners to contribute R90 million ($9m) to a fund to support small-hold farmers with training and loans.

Based on Mr. Patel’s latest pronouncements, South Africa is on a path to politicizing antitrust law and making pure competition considerations a secondary objective to public-interest considerations.

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