KENYA: BUYER POWER

By Michael-James Currie

[Michael-James Currie is a competition lawyer practicing across multiple African jurisdictions]

Kenya has in some respects become the leading African authority in the regulation of buyer power in December 2016 when it adopted specific legislative provisions on buyer power through its competition law framework.

The CAK has long viewed buyer power as a concern as in its view, unequal bargaining power, particularly in the retail sector has had serious anti-competitive effects in the market, leading to the foreclosure of suppliers, particularly in the retail sector.

The Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) formally initiated a market inquiry into the branded retail sector, with one of its key objectives being the bargaining power between retails and their suppliers. See the ATT exclusive here

Ostensibly in light of the identified concerns, the CAK assisted in developing a new industry code (which is being proposed in terms of the Kenya Trade Development Bill). In terms of the industry code, retailers are prohibited inter alia from:

  • Making late payments to suppliers;
  • Forcing suppliers to contribute to marketing costs;
  • Forcing suppliers to pay for shrinkage;
  • Unilaterally terminating commercial agreements (without reasonable notice and on good cause);
  • Imposing unfair risk/liability on suppliers.

The purpose of the code of practice is to encourage self-regulation and harmonise retailers’ and suppliers’ ways of engagement and in so doing, also apply international best practice applicable to the Kenyan situation,” says Kenya Trade Principal Secretary Chris Kiptoo

The industry code also establishes a Retail Trade Dispute Settlement Committee, who will act as an industry ombudsman to settle disputes arising out of the code.

The CAK also formed a specific ‘Buyer Power Unit’ within the CAK to oversee market conduct and to enforce compliance with the buyer power provisions of the Kenya Competition Act which attracts a sanction of imprisonment for a period not exceeding 5 years and/or a fine of Sh10million. Previously, the CAK had limited powers to intervene in commercial dealings between retailers and suppliers.  Ruth Mosoti, director of Primerio Kenya says with the code, together with the provisions of the Competition Act, “we are bound to see an increase in enforcement action by the CAK given that the legal framework is in place as well as the fact that the ‘Buyer Power’ department is fully operational”.

Further south, the South African Department of Economic Development has published draft guidelines on buyer power, in terms of the South African Competition Amendment Bill. The Bill and Draft Guidelines, prohibits a dominant firm from imposing unfair prices or trading conditions on “a supplier that is a small and medium business or a firm controlled or owned by historically disadvantaged persons…”.  It is similarly an offence for the dominant firm to refuse to or avoid purchasing from such a supplier.

According to Andreas Stargard, also at Primerio, these latest developments are in line with the broader public interest initiatives which are increasingly prevalent in African competition enforcement. African competition authorities have identified competition enforcement as a key to driving growth in African economies through the protection and inclusion of local and small businesses.

The role of public interest in competition law enforcement has made competition compliance in these jurisdictions particularly complex as quantifying socio-economic effects is a particularly subjective exercise, says John Oxenham.

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South Africa: Competition Tribunal Fines Computicket for Abusing its Dominance

By Charl van der Merwe

On 21 January 2019, the South African Competition Tribunal (Tribunal), ruled in favour of the South African Competition Commission (SACC) who prosecuted Computicket (Pty) Ltd. (Computicket) for abuse of dominance in contravention of the Competition Act.

The Tribunal ruled that Computicket had abused its dominance, in contravention of section 8(d)(i) of the Competition Act (which prohibits dominant entities from inducing customer or suppliers not to deal with competitors) by engaging in exclusionary conduct and fined the company R20 million (approximately US$1.44 million), payable within 60 days.

In terms of section 8(d)(i) of the Competition Act, exclusionary conduct is prohibited unless the dominant firm can show that the anti-competitive effect of the exclusionary conduct is outweighed by technological, efficiency or other pro-competitive gains.

The SACC referred the complaint to the Tribunal in April 2010 after its investigation found that Computicket had entered into long term exclusive agreements with customers for the period 2005 to 2010 (immediately after being acquired by a large South African retailer, Shoprite), thereby excluding new entrants from entering the market. At the hearing of the matter, the SACC produced evidence that Computicket entered into these agreements shortly after being acquired and that employees vigorously enforced the exclusive agreements, particularly when new entrants sought to enter the market.

Computicket denied the allegations, arguing that its long term exclusive contracts had no anti-competitive effects as it was offering a superior service and the exclusive contracts were necessary to safeguard against reputational risks.

The Tribunal rejected the argument on the basis that:

  • Computicket had a near monopoly in the market;
  • there was limited market entry during the relevant period which coincided with the introduction of the longer term exclusivity contracts; and
  • no other theory was put forward as to why entry into the market was so limited and ineffectual.

The Tribunal, however, limited the period of the conduct to that period for which the SACC managed to produce conclusive evidence of anti-competitive effects.

The Tribunal found that while some of the anti-competitive effects were inconclusive, the evidence suggesting that the foreclosure of the market to competition during the period (coupled with the cumulative effect of the other inconclusive theories) is sufficient to prove an anti-competitive effect on a balance of probabilities.

According to John Oxenham, director at Primerio,  the Tribunal’s decision followed  largely on the same principles which were set out in the South African Airways case some years earlier. In terms of principles set out in SAA, the SACC was required to prove that the conduct of a dominate firm constitutes an exclusionary act as defined in section 8(1)(d) and, if so, that the exclusionary act has an anti-competitive effect. In other words, whether the conduct resulted in harm to consumer welfare or was “substantial or significant” in that it led to the foreclosing of market rivals. It is then for the respondent to justify its conduct based on a rule of reason analysis.

Competition lawyer, Michael-James Currie says that although there have been a limited number of abuse of dominance cases in South Africa which have successfully been prosecuted, companies with high market shares should take particular cognizance of the Tribunal’s decision. Tackling abuse of dominance cases is very much on the SACC’s radar and the Competition Amendment Bill (expected to be introduced in early 2019) will assist the SACC in prosecuting abuse of dominance cases by introducing thresholds divorced of competition or consumer welfare standards and placing a reverse onus on respondents to justify its conduct (particularly in relation to the excessive pricing, price discrimination and buyer power prohibitions).

Currie says that over and above the administrative penalty, companies found to have contravened section 8 of the Act are potentially at risk from a civil liability perspective. In this regard, both Currie and Oxenham point to the SAA case which resulted in Comair and Nationwide successfully claiming damages in the first follow-on damages case in South Africa for abuse of dominance conduct.

It appears that Computicket will take the Tribunal’s decision on appeal to the Competition Appeal Court.

 

 

 

South Africa: Competition Tribunal dismisses cartel complaint despite settlements by other respondents

On 15 January 2019, the South African Competition Tribunal (“Tribunal”) dismissed the Competition Commission’s (“Commission”) cartel complaint against Tulisa Cables. Tulisa Cables was one of four respondents to the Commission’s complaint referral.

The other respondents included Aberdare Cables who approached the Commission for leniency and Ocean Electric Wire Company and Alvern Cables who both concluded settlement agreements with the Commission (the latter concluded a settlement agreement on the first day of the hearing before the Tribunal). Alvern paid an administrative penalty of R4.7 million which equated to 5% of its total turnover for 2010. Ocean Wire paid an administrative penalty of approximately R13.3 million.

Tulisa, as the only remaining respondent, opposed the Commission’s complaint referral.

The Commission alleged that for a period between 2001 and 2010, the respondents attended meetings and engaged directly with each other to, inter alia, discuss the price of power cables. Furthermore, that Aberdare would circulate price lists to the respondents and that this constituted a concerted practice between the respondents to fix prices as it was common cause that all the respondents based their own prices off Aberdare’s price lists (which were circulated monthly). The first allegation was therefore that a collusive “agreement” had been reached by the respondents, and secondly that there was a concerted practice between the respondents which amounted to collusive conduct.

Tulisa denied attending meetings as alleged by the Commission. Based on the evidence, the Tribunal found that there was insufficient proof of an agreement having being entered into between Tulisa and the other respondents to collude.

In relation to the concerted practice allegation, Tulisa argued that Aberdare’s price lists were circulated to it via its customers and not directly by Aberdare. Furthermore, Tulisa  argued that it used Aberdare’s price lists to discount off Aberdare’s prices.

Michael-James Currie, a competition lawyer practicing in sub-Saharan Africa says that Tulisa appears to have adopted a “follow the leader” pricing strategy so as not to potentially be undercut by the largest player in the market (Aberdare) were Tulisa to make the first move (from a pricing perspective).

John Oxenham, director of Primerio, says that the Tribunal found that in light of the evidence and the market structure Tulisa’s explanation for its pricing strategy is a plausible one – particularly in oligopoly markets.

Both Currie and Oxenham agree that there are a number of markets in South Africa where “conscious parralism” may be particularly prevalent due to the size of the domestic market. Provided, however, that the market structure and conduct of the players in those markets does not compromise their independent decision, there are ordinarily limited concerns regarding anti-competitive effects in the market. In this regard, Currie points to the following paragraph of the Tribunal’s decision which succinctly summarises the issue as follows:

Tulisa’s actions appear to be consistent with those of a player in an oligopoly market acting rationally and independently of its competitors but well alive to the  actions  of  the  competitors  (referred  to  in  literature  and  case  law  as ‘conscious  parallel  behaviour’  or  ‘conscious  parallelism’).  It is generally accepted that conscious parallel pricing is unlawful if it is the result of a collusive arrangement but is lawful if it is unilateral as a consequence of the market structure. Where the line is drawn between the two is a matter of fact and evidence.

To access the full judgment click here.

 

Ghana slowly inches towards antitrust law

As one of two key West African nation states (the other being Nigeria), Ghana still lacks functioning competition legislation at the close of 2018.  Adding to the chorus of calls for the introduction of a Ghanaian antitrust act, the local branch of the global advocacy group CUTS (“Consumer Unity and Trust Society”), has now asked the government to ensure a currently pending draft competition bill becomes law in 2019.  The bill is, at present, before the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Department for further consideration, prior to being presented to Parliament.

ghana

Speaking on the topic of “Competing Without Market Rules” at the annual U.N. World Competition (Antitrust) Day, CUTS’ local director is quoted as deploring the absence of any competition policy or law, allowing unscrupulous firms to engage in conduct that would be deemed illegal virtually anywhere else and impeding the proper functioning of the Ghanaian market in the process.

Notably, Ghana’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Alan Kyeremanten, provided a written statement, noting that the country’s government was formulating its approach to competition policy with an eye toward enacting a law that would go beyond the relatively ineffectual Protection Against Unfair Competition Act, dating back to 2000 (Act 589).  Goals of enacting a more effective competition legislation would be to promote private sector development, economic growth, poverty reduction and increasing Foreign Direct Investment.

Nominate! 2019 Antitrust Writing Awards (Concurrences / GWU Law)

Nominations for the 2019 Antitrust Writing Awards are open

We are pleased to announce that nominations for the 2019 Antitrust Writing Awards are now open. For the 8th consecutive year, our friends over at Concurrences Review has brought together an impressive jury panel consisting of antitrust enforcers, professors, and in-house counsels to select the Best Articles and Best Soft Laws published and released in the past year.

The deadline for submission is December 2, 2018.

The present Call for Nominations concerns 3 types of publications:

  • Best Articles: Articles published or accepted for publication in 2018, in both academic journals and professional magazines.

  • Best Soft Law: Most innovative non-enforcement tools issued by competition agencies in 2018, such as guidelines, market studies, white books, etc.

  • Best Newsletters: Leading antitrust newsletters published by law firms that stand out for coverage, contents, readership or innovation.

To nominate an Article, Soft Law or Newsletter, and read full eligibility rules, see here: http://awards.concurrences.com

Articles must be submitted before December 2nd.

The Editorial Committee will select 100 Articles, 30 Soft Law and 30 Newsletters.

Winners will be invited to attend the Gala Dinner on March 26, 2019 in Washington, DC in the presence of the Board and Steering Committee Members. To see the full list of Jury Members, click here.

The Antitrust Writing Awards is a joint initiative between Concurrences Review and the George Washington University Law School. Learn more about the Jury, the Awards categories and Rules on the dedicated website here.

Botswana Competition Authority: Exception Application Backfires for Choppies-Payless Buying Group

The Competition Authority of Botswana (CA) rejected an exemption application brought by two FMCG players. The applicants, Choppies Distribution Centre and Payless Supermarkets, sought to justify their application by demonstrating that by increasing their buyer power the applicants would be able to ensure lower prices and better quality products for consumers and that these pro-competitive outcomes outweigh any anti-competitive effects.

After evaluating the exemption application, the CA found that the agreement between Choppies and Payless would result in a substantial lessening of competition. In particular, the CA held that:

  • There is no competition between Choppies and Payless, the duo had monthly promotions wherein they had the same goods on promotion at identical or similar prices and the pamphlets were an exact replica of each other.  
  • The two stores had alleged that Choppies would not benefit from the arrangement. It however emerged that Choppies was benefiting, particularly given, the quantity of Choppies in house brands found in Payless stores. Payless did not have any in house brands, but instead sold a variety of Choppies goods in large volumes.
  • Further, the Authority finds that the granting of an exemption to the applicants would be in effect granting the Choppies and Payless the leeway to continue with their price fixing and distortion of competition.

The CA was also not convinced that there were any other public interest benefits which would outweigh the anti-competitive effects referred to above.

This exemption application followed a similar application in 2014 which was also rejected.

Primerio Director, John Oxenham, says that this application demonstrates the importance of ensuring that objective and credible economic evidence accompanies an exemption application in order to prove the likely economic benefits to the public.

When asked to comment, Michael-James Currie, a competition lawyer practising across sub-Saharan Africa, says that buyer power in the context of FMCG retailers is a particularly topical issue not only in Botswana but also in South Africa where buyer power has specifically been included in the Competition Amendment Bill (which is soon to be brought into effect) as well as Kenya (who have also specifically included abuse of buyer power as a standalone provision). The motivation behind these legislative amendments, says Currie, follow largely as a result of concerns raised by the respective competition agencies of South Africa and Kenya regarding the buyer power which large retailers exert on small suppliers.

It is not yet clear whether Choppies-Payless proceed to appeal the CA’s decision or whether they will seek to pursue a fresh exemption application bolstered with more compelling economic evidence.  To the extent that the applicants abide by the CA’s decision, they will be required to dissolve their “buying group agreement” within three months.

 

African female lawyers: Call for nominations!

Our friends at W@Competition invite you to submit nominations by 25 November:

You know or you have worked with – either within your organisation or otherwise – notable women competition professional in their 40s in Africa? The survey will feature 40 outstanding professionals aged between 40 and 49 in the competition field in: Competition Law – Private Practice, Bar & Academia

Filling in this simple online nomination form will only take a minute. There is no limit to the number of women you may nominate.

All eligible nominees will be invited to participate in the second round. An initial list will be drawn up by an independent jury on the basis of anonymised submissions by nominees and input from referees will be sought as appropriate.

Namibia: High Court declares Competition Commission’s search and seizure unlawful

On 9 November 2018, the High Court in Namibia declared a dawn raid conducted by the Namibian Competition Commission (NaCC) in September 2016 to be unlawful. The NaCC raided the premises of PUMA Energy on the basis of alleged abuse of dominance conduct in relation to the sale of aviation fuel at two airports in Namibia.

namibiaPUMA Energy challenged the validity of the search warrant and successfully argued that there was no basis for granting the search warrant. Consequently, the NaCC is obliged to return all documents seized during the raid to PUMA Energies.

In June 2018, the South African Competition Commission also lost a High Court challenge where the validity of a search warrant was at issue. The Pietermaritzburg High Court set aside the search warrant on the basis that the SACC failed to demonstrate that there was a bona fide “reasonable belief” that a prohibited act had been engaged in by the respondents in that case.

Competition lawyer, Michael-James Currie says that the use of search and seizure operations as an enforcement tool is being increasingly used across a number of African jurisdictions. Dawn raids have recently been conducted in Egypt, Kenya and Zambia in addition to Namibia and South Africa.

Currie says while dawn raids have been used effectively by well-established antitrust agencies, search and seizure operations are particularly burdensome on the targets and should only be used in those instances were no other less intrusive investigative tools are available. If competition authorities’ powers are not kept in check there is a material risk that search and seizure powers may be used as “fishing expeditions”.

Primerio director, John Oxenham, points out that the evidentiary threshold required in order to obtain a search warrant is relatively low. It is, therefore, concerning if enforcement agencies subject respondent parties to such an intrusive and resource intensive investigative tool without satisfying the requirements for obtaining a search warrant.

Despite these recent challenges to search warrants, Andreas Stargard, also a partner at Primerio, corroborates Oxenham and Currie’s view that the South African and Namibian competition agencies will continue utilising dawn raids as an investigative tool and in light of the increasingly robust enforcement activities, particularly by the younger competition agencies, companies should ensure that they are well prepared to handle a dawn raid should they be subjected to such an investigation.

 

“Emerging Antitrust”: One size doesn’t fit all?

Pro rem publicam

At the Concurrences “Antitrust & Developing and Emerging Economies” conference held at NYU Law last Friday — and aptly sub-titled “Coping with nationalism, building inclusive growth” — the audience was treated to a (rather iconoclastic, yet fascinating) keynote speech by Nobel laureate economics professor Joe Stiglitz, which highlighted what would become a theme woven throughout the four panels of the day: One size does not fit all when it comes to competition-law regimes, according to a majority of the speakers; imposing a pure U.S. or EU-derived methodology without regard to local economic and/or political differences is doomed to fail.  However, as we outline further below, there were also countervailing voices…

Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz: “Revisit all of antitrust!”

In the words of Professor Stiglitz, his advice to developing nations was (perhaps to the chagrin of U.S. government representatives, such as the FTC’s international director, Randy Tritell): “don’t copy the US antitrust laws and presumptions!”  Smaller markets in developing countries are even more susceptible to market power by few large firms.  Competition law can be used in developing countries to advance the public interest, as there are fewer “tools in the toolkit” in those nations, and in his view, all available tools should thus be used.  He referred to the WalMart/Massmart transaction in South Africa in this regard, noting the public-interest conditions imposed there.

On the day’s Mega Mergers panel, SACC Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele noted how the outcomes of truly global “mega mergers” all having been positive, “there has been no outright prohibition, there really is no problem that’s too big which could not be remedied by the authorities and the parties.”

Andreas Stargard and Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele (South Africa)

Observes Andreas Stargard: “Commissioner Bonakele also pointed to the importance of international merger enforcers cooperating on remedies, in order to allow these positive outcomes to be maintained.  Taking up Professor Harry First’s hypothetical of a joint or ‘merged’ antitrust enforcement agency, Mr. Bonakele considered a combined merger authority for the African continent a possibility, especially in light of the many small jurisdictions which individually lack resources to police cross-border M&A activity.”  Mr. Bonakele expressed the concern that “the smaller, national enforcers certainly feel as if they cannot block a mega deal on their own, so they largely defer” to the established agencies, such as the EC and DOJ / FTC.

In response to Frederic Jenny’s critical introduction of the South African Competition Amendment Act, Commissioner Bonakele commented that the current legal regime lacked the ability to tackle concentration as a market feature in itself, whilst the SACC had a comparatively positive track record on unilateral enforcement issues.  Overall, he disagreed with the moderator that most of the Bill’s changes were drastic, stating simply that it would in fact bring South Africa more in line with other international regimes.

As to the ministerial intervention powers, he identified two concerns, namely the use of the agency’s resources as well as the possible risk of abuse by a minister who could employ the new law to pursue ulterior motives against a firm or a sector.

Counterpoint: public interest or politicization?

Prof. Ioannis Lianos characterized the “slightly fuzzy public interest test” as largely a scheme to enhance the bargaining power of the competition agencies that do apply such a test.

Canadian attorney and former enforcer Lawson Hunter pointed out that the trend of growing political interference in the merger approval process has spread globally, not only in developing nations but also in well-established regimes — often under the guise of national security reviews, which are “obscure, opaque in process, fundamentally political, and without any ‘there there’.”  Merger review has “simply become very broad and less doctrinal.”  “I found it interesting that Mr. Hunter recommended that other antitrust agencies should give more frank input into their sister agencies, if and when those stray from the right path,” said Stargard, who focuses his practice on competition matters across the continent.  “Hunter also pointed to the tendency in emerging antitrust jurisdictions to abuse the remedy process in merger control to address economic issues that lie well outside the actual competition concerns that may have been found — an issue we have also come across, sadly.”

Commissioner Bonakele closed the final panel of the day by addressing the recently ratified South African Competition Amendment Bill: he admitted that there were some “radical” provisions in the law, such as the power to break up companies, as well as the existence of a risk of government using the law’s new national security provision in a protectionist manner. He concluded by stating his personal worry that the law had possibly too much ambition, which could be difficult to implement in reality by the SACC.

SA Competition Act officially amended – serious consequences for businesses

South Africa has amended its antitrust laws, first introduced to the country in 1998 via its Competition Act.  Parliament ratified the amendments (which still have to be rubber-stamped by the National Council of Provinces, a mere formality) yesterday over the serious objections of the opposition parties.  The new law will give significant interventionist powers to the Minister for Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel, as well as introduce lower (or even reversed) burdens of proof for the Competition Commission (SACC) to make its case, after a long-running string of court losses and appellate defeats has seen the SACC’s track record weakened, observers say.

As reported on AAT Monday, a panel of Africa-focussed competition specialists had just recently convened in Johannesburg, warning the South African business community about the high probability of the Bill’s passage, as well as addressing the adverse effects the Bill will have on doing business in South Africa as a medium to large size market player (measured in market share, not merely revenue) or simply as a foreign-owned corporate.

Minister Patel speaks

Minister Patel

Interviewed yesterday in Cape Town, where the Amendment Act was ratified by South Africa’s Parliament, Primerio competition practitioner Andreas Stargard commented: “As we foreshadowed at our conference less than a week ago, the likelihood of the Bill passing was high.  Political, populist pressure was simply too strong for this amendment — which had been introduced as a so-called ‘prioritised bill’ that could be fast-tracked — not to pass.  We view the likely effects of it as a serious departure from commonly accepted best practices in the international world of antitrust law, as we outlined to our clients at the Johannesburg conference.  I will be curious to hear what Commissioner Bonakele’s comments on these critiques will be at Friday’s conference at New York University“, referring to an event sponsored by NYU and Concurrences, at which the SACC Commissioner is expected to deliver a panel speech later this week.

Commenting on the purported social transformational goals, South African competition partner John Oxenham adds: “There is a relentless push from government (not only Mr. Patel) to use the Competition Act as a tool to speed up its broader social and transformation goals.  The underlying reasons for this Amendment are rather straightforwardly conceded by the current, and arguably presently fluctuating, administration: the Bill was ostensibly designed not to enhance competitiveness in the traditional antitrust sense, but rather to address so-called market concentration and perceived unequal ownership patterns in the SA economy.”