By AAT Senior Contributor, Michael-James Currie
The CEO of the Namibian Competition Commission (NCC), Mr. Mihe Gaomab II, recently announced that the NCC has made submissions to the Minister of Trade and Industry in relation to proposed legislation which will regulate franchise models in Namibia.
Currently, there is no specific ‘franchise law’ in Namibia and moreover, franchisees are not required to apply to the Minister of Trade and Industry for registration of an ‘approval’ licences. Accordingly, there is minimal regulatory oversight in respect of franchise models.
While recognising the benefits of franchise models, the NCC is, however, concerned that there are a number of franchises in Namibia which may be anti-competitive in that the franchisor-franchisee relationship creates certain barriers to entry.
The NCC has specifically identified the practice, by way of an example, whereby certain franchisors deliberately ensure that there is a lack of competition between franchisees in the downstream market. The rationale behind this commercial strategy is allegedly so that the franchisor may extract greater royalties or franchise fees from the respective franchisees, as the franchisee is assured of a lack of competition.
The NCC views this practice as well as a various similar practices as potentially anti-competitive as the structure of certain franchise models may result in collusion between franchisees.
Unlike a number of jurisdictions, including South Africa, however, collusive conduct is not prohibited per se and a franchise agreement or model will, therefore, only amount to a contravention of the Namibia Competition Act if there is (or likely to be) an anti-competitive effect which cannot be justified or outweighed by other pro-competitive or efficiency arguments (i.e. rule of reason arguments).
The rule of reason analysis also extends to ‘minimum resale price maintenance’ (MRPM) under Namibian competition law. Again, unlike the position in South Africa, MRPM is not a per se prohibition (i.e. there is rule of reason defence available to a respondent). MRPM in terms of the South African Competition Act is a controversial topic as in many instances, the very success of a franchise model is dependent on uniformity in pricing across all franchisees. Furthermore, issues such as protecting brand reputation are also generally acceptable commercial practices which may amount to a contravention due to the strict application of the MRPM provisions under South African law.
In Namibia, franchisors therefore have somewhat more flexibility when recommending minimum resale prices than their South African counterparts. It should be noted, however, that the NCC is monitoring franchise models closely to ensure that franchisors do not overstep the mark by implementing a franchise model which has as its object or effect, the lessening of competition in the market.