Government-mandated sharing of trade secrets: anticompetitive interference


Ms. Zulu proposes foreign competitors share trade secrets with SA counterparts

Perhaps it is time for increased advocacy initiatives within the South African government, or at a minimum a basic educational program in competition law for all its sitting ministers.
In what can only be described as startling (and likely positively anticompetitive), Lindiwe Zulu, the S.A. Minister of Small Business, has demanded foreign business owners to reveal their trade secrets to their smaller rivals.
The South African Competition Commission, and perhaps one of the Minister’s own fellow Cabinet members, minister Ebrahim Patel, who is de facto in charge of the competition authorities, can see fit to remind Ms. Zulu that fundamental antitrust law principles (and in particular section 4 of the South African Competition Act), preclude firms in a horizontal relationship from sharing trade secrets that are competitively sensitive – i.e., precisely those types of information Ms. Zulu now proposes to be shared mandatorily amongst competitors.
While SACC has utilized this provision with much success against big business in South Africa, it would be remiss not enforce the provisions of the Act without fear or favor should the traders act out on the instruction of the Minister.  It is also time that the Cabinet seeks to enforce business practices which comply with South African legislation.
BDLive‘s Khulekani Magubane reports in today’s edition (“Reveal trade secrets, minister tells foreigners“) that “foreign business owners in SA’s townships cannot expect to co-exist peacefully with local business owners unless they share their trade secrets, says Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu.”

Lindiwe Zulu. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

Lindiwe Zulu. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

“In an interview on Monday she said foreign business owners had an advantage over South African business owners in townships. This was because local business owners had been marginalised and been offered poor education and a lack of opportunities under apartheid.

“Foreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost. A platform is needed for business owners to communicate and share ideas. They cannot barricade themselves in and not share their practices with local business owners,” Ms Zulu said.”

Research fellow at the SA Institute for International Affairs Peter Draper said Ms Zulu’s remarks, underscored government’s mistrust of foreign investors which was also reflected in business regulations. “If you connect this to the broader picture, essentially this is part of a thrust to single out foreign business, which is contrary to the political message President Jacob Zuma went to portray in Davos. We are at a tipping point and we are going beyond it. You can only push foreign business so far before they disengage,” he said.Mr Draper agreed with Ms Zulu’s remarks on the effect of apartheid on local business owners in townships but said foreign business owners had to confront their own challenges with little state support.

“Apartheid did disadvantage black people and over generations it inhibited social capital. Many foreigners have trading entrenched in their blood. Wherever they go they bring social capital, networks and extended family. Is that unfair? I don’t think so. That’s life,” he said.

Ms Zulu’s comments show the about-turn in the African National Congress’ (ANC’s) ideology of Pan Africanism and in line with remarks by party leaders.

After a week of looting in Soweto last week, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told residents in Doornkop that immigration laws needed to be strengthened to protect the country from terror.

One thought on “Government-mandated sharing of trade secrets: anticompetitive interference

  1. Reblogged this on Developing World Antitrust and commented:
    This post from analyses a case that highlights the need for advocacy programs that educate public officials. In this particular instance, the S.A. Minister of Small Business requested companies to engage in conduct that violates the country’s competition law. Although the purpose of this request is to promote other public policy goals, it leaves both the South African Competition Commission (SACC) and the multinational companies in an awkward situation. How should the SACC act in the event of a government-lead antitrust violation? The post, that we highly recommend, provides arguments to find an answer to this question.

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