Finally: One step forward for COMESA merger enforcement? New rules, new commissioners

COMESA old flag color

Clarification or not?

Amended Rules for Merger Notification

Repealing the oft-criticised original 2012 Rules on the Determination of Merger Notification Threshold, the COMESA Board of Commissioners approved on March 26, 2015 the new set of Amended Merger Rules. These are ostensibly meant to permit parties and their legal counsel a more meaningful determination of filing fees, notification thresholds, and calculation of parties’ revenue (and asset) valuation.  Whilst many legal news outlets have reported (uncritically, as we fear) a high-level summary of these Rules, AAT undertook a critical review of them, and finds that many of the previously-identified flaws persist.

Filing Fee

The question of what parties had to pay in administrative fees to be permitted to file a merger notification with the Competition Commission was always in question (see here for AAT summaries of the issue).  We have reported on examples of fees that came dangerously close to the original $500,000 maximum limit.  Since then, the agency’s “Explanatory Note” (which still has a visible link on the Commission’s web site, but which happens to be an essentially “dead” web page, other than its amusing headline: “What is merger?“) attempted to clarify, and indeed informally change, the filing fee from a 0.5% figure to 0.01% of the parties’ annual COMESA-area turnover.

COMESA explanatory note

Where the filing fee stands now is, honestly, not clear to AAT.  While other sources have reiterated the revised fee of 0.1% with a maximum of $200,000, we fail to see any information whatsoever about the filing fee in the (partial set, containing only ANNEX 2 of) the Amended Rules made available by COMESA on its site, despite their title containing the term “fees”.  We have been able to determine, through some internet sleuthing on the COMESA site, that a document marked clearly as “DRAFT” does contain references to 0.1% and $200k maximum fees.

We note that we have now seen three different turnover percentage-based filing fees from COMESA: 0.01%, 0.1%, and 0.5%, as well as several different maxima.  Which shall govern in the end remains to be seen.  We do not envy those parties that have filed with COMESA and have paid the half-million dollar fee within the past 2 years, as we doubt they are entitled to restitution of their evident overpayment.

AAT predicts that this is where things will land, at 0.1% and $200,000, once the good folks at COMESA get around to actually editing the document and finalising their own legislation, so that practitioners and parties alike may have an original, statutory source document on which to rely

Our previous AAT advice has been very clear to companies envisaging a filing with COMESA: wait until the Commission and the Board clarify the regime in its entirety.  Do not file for fear of enforcement, because there is little if any enforcement yet, and the utter lack of clarity – apparently even within the agency itself – on the actual thresholds and other rules provides ample grounds for a legal challenge to the “constitutionality,” if you will, of the entire COMESA merger regime

Combined $50 million revenue threshold

What the 5-page document does show, however, is the new notification threshold embodied in Rule 4, which defines the threshold as follows:

Either (or both) of the acquiring and/or target firms must ‘operate’ [defined elsewhere] in at least two COMESA member states and have (1) combined annual turnover or assets of $50 million or more in the COMESA common market, AND (2) in line with the EU’s “two-thirds” merger rule, each of at least 2 parties to the merger must have at least $10 million revenue or assets within the COMESA zone, unless each of the merging parties achieves 2/3 or more of its aggregate revenue within one and the same member state.

The likewise-revised Form 12, the mandatory filing form, which is available in a scanned format (we hope this will be remedied and provided in more legible and native-electronic format soon by the secretariat) here, reflects the rules changes.  It must be submitted at a minimum within “30 days of the merging parties’ decisions [sic] to merge.”  The Competition Commission mus t make a decision within 120 days of receipt of (a complete) notification.

Interestingly, if the same two firms enter into multiple transactions within a 2-year period are to be treated “as one and the same merger arising on the date of the last transaction.” (See Rule 5, in a likely-misidentified subsection that is confusingly entitled 1.2.). Mimicking the EU Merger Regulation and Consolidated Jurisdictional Notice, the revised COMESA rules likewise contain special provisions for determining the revenues or assets of financial institutions (and their individual member-state branches’ income) as well as insurance companies.

Parents, sisters, subs: included.

Parent, sister and subsidiary entities are included in the revenue determination of the purchaser, to no surprise.  However, unlike what has been reported in the media, again we fail to see the (entirely logical) exclusion of the target parent’s turnover in calculating total revenues, other than in section 3.16 of the August 2014 Guidelines (which provides: “the annual turnover and value of assets of a target undertaking will not, for the purposes of these Guidelines, include the annual turnover or value of assets of its parents and their subsidiaries under Section 3.15)(d)where, after the merger is implemented, such parents are not parents of (i) the target undertaking if it remains after the merger, or (ii) the merged undertaking in the case of an amalgamation or combination“).

We observe the obvious: the Guidelines have no binding legal effect.

The Amended Rules do however provide that state-owned enterprises do not have to include their “parental” governmental revenues; for instance, if a state-owned airline like Air Tanzania were to acquire its counterpart, such as Air Mauritius, in a hypothetical COMESA-reportable transaction, the parties would not be required to report the full tax income or other revenues of the Tanzanian and Mauritian governments, respectively, but only those of the actual state-owned entity and its subsidiaries.

COMESA's 18th Summit in Ethiopia

18th COMESA Summit in Ethiopia

Four New Commissioners

As AAT reported previously, the Addis Ababa COMESA summit also saw the election and confirmation of four new Competition Commissioners.  We now have the full listing of the members, including the 4 new* ones (listed below in italics), whose term is for three years:

New 2015 Commissioners Origin
Ali Mohammed Afkada Djibouti
Amira Abdel Ghaffar* Egypt
Merkebu Zeleke Sime* Ethiopia
Francis Kariuki Kenya
Matthews Chikankheni Malawi
Georges Emmanuel Jude Tirant* Seychelles
Thabisile Langa Swaziland
Patrick Okilangole* Uganda
Chilufya Sampa Zambia
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One thought on “Finally: One step forward for COMESA merger enforcement? New rules, new commissioners

  1. Pingback: Two new COMESA competition commissioners seated | African Antitrust & Competition Law

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