Toyota’s distribution & pricing agreements under COMESA scrutiny

Regional bloc’s antitrust enforcer further steps up investigations in the Common Market

By Gina Lodolo
On 16 June 2022, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (“COMESA”)’s Competition Commission (“CCC”) provided notice, as required by Article 22 of the COMESA Regulations (“Regulations”), that it launched an investigation into Toyota Tsusho Corporation (“Toyota”) in case no. CCC/ACBP/NI/3/2022.


Where the CCC has reason to believe that competition in the Common Market has been restrained, Article 22 of the Regulations requires the entity involved to be notified of the investigation, and further requires the investigation to be completed within 180 days of the notification. In this regard, the Toyota investigation was launched following allegations that the company contravened Article 16 of the Regulations. Article 16 (generally covering ‘restrictive business practices’) prohibits agreements that “may affect trade between Member States; and have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the Common Market”.


The specific conduct referred to by Dr. Willard Mwemba, the Director and Chief Executive Officer of COMESA — who has revitalised the relatively young antitrust authority’s conduct investigations and increased its caché internationally by following best practices and engaging competition practitioners globally in the agency’s development and capacity-building process — includes Toyota’s distribution agreements with its authorised distributors. These vehicle distributors sell Toyota cars, trucks, and spare parts across the region, within their contractually designated territories. In this regard, the CCC is now investigating suspicions that the distribution agreements violate Article 16 of the Regulations in various ways — they may:
• Provide prohibitions on authorised distributors to sell outside of allocated geographic areas;
• Prohibit authorised distributors from indirectly selling outside of allocated geographic areas through selling to third parties, who they suspect will sell or transfer to another territory; and
• Indicate resale price maintenance by providing prices of Toyota products in the Common Market.

Andreas Stargard, a competition partner at Primerio Ltd. said, “this development shows how ‘CCC 2.0’ is truly emerging as a fully-fledged African antitrust enforcement authority and not a mere merger ‘toll booth’ regulator, which it essentially was for the first few years of its existence. The CCC has come a long way from the early days and is now pursuing abuse-of-dominance cases that it would not have had the capacity to tackle a decade ago”. Stargard observes that the Toyota case is “now the 3rd announced anticompetitive-business practice investigation of the year 2022 so far,” which is an absolute record for the CCC. “We’re talking proper grey-market / parallel-export restriction and RPM investigations here, this is no longer just a merger-fee collections agency.”

The agency invites public comment and further insight into Toyota’s dealings by 30th of July. Interested parties are invited to make comments to the Commission by 30 July 2022.

COMESA antitrust workshop addresses AfCFTA

The COMESA Competition Commission (CCC), under the leadership of its CEO and Director Dr. Mwemba, organised its first “Emerging Trends in Competition and Consumer Law Enforcement in the Wake of Regional and Continental Integration” workshop in Zambia, targeting legal practitioners across and outside Africa. Its objective is to discuss various issues in competition and consumer protection law enforcement at national, regional and continental level including emerging issues such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Michael Currie, a competition partner at Primerio, said of the event, “Great to be participating at the COMESA Competition Commission’s first Workshop dedicated specifically to legal practitioners, hosted here in Livingstone. It was informative, and simply good to be travelling, meeting old friends and colleagues and seeing world heritage sights all in a few days work. This is an important initiative by the CCC as it expands its advocacy and enforcement initiatives across the Common Market. Important topics on the agenda including updates on the CCC’s approach to penalties, settlement procedures and investigations as well as the more robust merger regime in place. Thank you Willard Mwemba for the invitation and congrats on a well-organised event!”

New CCC Chief addresses World Competition Day, lays out future of COMESA antitrust policy

As we previously reported, long-time COMESA Competition Commission executive, Dr. Willard Mwemba, was recently promoted to his new role of permanent CEO of the CCC, after having been appointed Acting Director in February of this year. In this new capacity, he recently gave a thus-far unreported speech on the occasion of “World Competition Day” on December 5th, 2021.

In his short address, Dr. Mwemba lays out the mid-term future he envisions for the antitrust policy under his aegis in the Common Market, as follows.

Highlighting the importance of competition law for efficient and fair markets, with the goal of benefiting businesses (as opposed to being perceived as an impediment to business interests), Mwemba mentions key building blocks of the CCC’s enforcement going forward. These include resale-price maintenance and exclusive-dealing enforcement (around 1-1:30 in the little-known video, which has thus far only garnered two dozen views on the YouTube platform and is not yet published on the CCC’s own web site). He then moves on to merger regulation (2:45 onward), and further discusses the importance of the effectiveness of the actual competition law itself — noting that the CCC plans to amend its Regulations and Guidelines within the next year (3:40). Noting that the CCC cannot undertake this process very well alone, Mwemba highlights the cooperative approach of the Commission, partnering with and relying on other groups and stakeholders (such as the COMESA Women in Business group, OECD, and others).

Mwemba notes that the CCC’s “focus for the year 2022 will be on strict enforcement, especially against blatant anti-competitive conduct and blatant violations of the COMESA Competition Regulations, and in this case I mean cartels.  It is said that cartels are the supreme evil of antitrust … because it robs consumers, government, and businesses of huge sums…  So in line with this theme, our focus for 2022 shall be on cartels, and we shall make sure that we weed out all possible or potential cartels operating in the Common Market.”

The CCC chief concludes his address by saying that competition authorities “are not there to frustrate businesses, we are not the enemy of business”; instead, he sees the CCC’s role to ensure that markets operate fairly for all — a welcome reminder to the southern and eastern African business community to understand and embrace the precepts of antitrust law as an efficiency-enhancing mechanism for trading in the Common Market.

Dr. Willard Mwemba confirmed as CEO

APPOINTMENT OF DR WILLARD MWEMBA AS THE DIRECTOR AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF THE COMESA COMPETITION COMMISSION

 November 15th, 2021  Competition CommissionFacebookTwitterShare

PRESS RELEASE

 APPOINTMENT OF DR WILLARD MWEMBA AS THE DIRECTOR AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF THE COMESA COMPETITION COMMISSION

 The COMESA Competition Commission (the “CCC”) wishes to inform the general public that the COMESA Council of Ministers at its 42nd Meeting held on 9th November 2021 appointed Dr Willard Mwemba as its Director and Chief Executive Officer.

The Commission’s Board, Management and Staff members wishes to congratulate Dr Mwemba on his well-deserved appointment. Dr Mwemba has been with the CCC since January 2013 being its first Head of the Mergers and Acquisitions Department until his appointment as the Acting Director and Chief Executive Officer on 1 February 2021. He has acted in this capacity until 9 November 2021 when his appointment was confirmed. Prior to joining the CCC, Dr Mwemba was the Director of Mergers and Monopolies at the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), Zambia.

Dr Mwemba has been instrumental in the enforcement of competition and consumer laws both at national and regional level. At national level, he has assisted a number of national competition authorities in developing and operationalising their mergers and restrictive business practices divisions. At regional level, he has been instrumental in implementing and reforming the COMESA Competition Law regime.  He has written extensively on competition law and is widely consulted on the subject at global level.

Dr Mwemba holds several qualifications among them Bachelor’s degrees in Economics and Law from the University of Zambia. He also holds a Master’s degree in Competition Law from Kings College London. He further holds a PhD from the University of Cape Town specializing in competition law.

The Board of Commissioners, Management and Staff members of the CCC have great confidence in Dr Mwemba’s capabilities and wishes him well as he executes the mandate of enhancing intra-COMESA trade through the creation of competitive markets.

CCC draft Guidelines (no. 3/3): Penalties

COMESA Competition Commission (“CCC”) seeks input on draft guidelines for determination of administrative penalties.

In this article in a three-piece series, we discuss the Determination of Administrative Penalties Guidelines draft, which has been published (in addition to the Hearing Procedure and Settlement Guidelines). The draft Guidelines comment period expired today, 12 November 2021.

The Guideline establishes a two-step methodology when determining a fine to be imposed on undertakings. The first step will see the Commission set a “base amount” for each undertaking or association of undertakings. The second step provides the Commission with the necessary discretion to adjust the base amount, either upwards or downwards, having consideration of any aggravating, mitigating or any other factors (Section 5(1)(a)-(b)).

The “base amount” will be set with reference to the undertaking’s turnover in the Common Market from the previous financial year and by applying the following methodology:

  • The base amount will be a proportion of the turnover and will depend on the nature, degree and gravity of the infringement and multiplied by the number of years of the infringement (Section 5(8)).
  • The Guideline deems the following as aggravating factors:
    • Nature and gravity of the infringement (Section 5(10)(a));
    • Duration of infringement(Section 5(10)(b));
    • Extend of consumers affected in the Member States and any action taken by the company to mitigate or remedy the damage suffered by consumers (Section 5(10)(c)).
  • The Guidelines propose the following base proportion of turnover to be applied:
    • Cartel conduct: a base of 5% of turnover;
    • Other horizontal conduct: a base of 4% of turnover;
    • Abuse of dominance: a base of 3% of turnover;
    • Restraints: a base of 2% of turnover;
    • Consumer protection violations: a base of 1% of turnover;
    • Mergers implemented in contravention of the Regulations: a base of 2% of turnover;
    • Failure to cooperate with the Commission: a base of 0.5% of turnover; and
    • Other infringements: a base of 0.5% of turnover.
  • The following aggravating circumstances may result in the increase of the base amount:
    • Continuation or repeat of the same or a similar infringement: basic amount will be increased by 3% of the amount of the fine for each infringement;
    • Refusal to cooperate with or obstruction of the Commission’s investigation: basic amount will be increased by 5% of the amount of the fine;
    • Where an undertaking is a leader in, or instigator of the infringement: basic amount will be increased by 4% of the amount of the fine.
  • The Commission may reduce the basic amount if the following mitigating factors exist:
    • Cooperation: decrease in the basic amount by 5% of the fine;
    • First offender: decrease in the basic amount by 3% of the fine;
    • Justifications on efficiency and consumer benefit: decrease in the basic amount by 0.5% of the fine;
    • Termination of the infringement: decrease in the basic amount by 0.5% of the fine;
    • Negligence: decrease in the basic amount by 0.1% of the fine; and
    • Extent of involvement in the infringement: decrease in the basic amount by 0.5% of the fine.

A reduction of a fine could be granted, upon request, solely on the basis of objective evidence that the imposition of the fine would irretrievably jeopardize the economic viability of the undertaking concerned and cause its assets to lose all their value (Section 5(21)).

COMESA Competition Commission logo

CCC draft Guidelines (no. 2/3): ‘Hearing Procedure’

COMESA Competition Commission seeks input on Determination of Hearing Procedure Guidelines

By Gina Lodolo

We previously published an analysis of the regional antitrust enforcer’s recently-published “Settlement Guidelines”.

In this article, we briefly discuss the Hearing Procedure draft which has been published (in addition to the Administrative Penalties Procedure and Settlement Guidelines).  The draft Guidelines have been published for public stakeholder comments due by 12 November 2021. Fundamentally, the COMESA Competition Commission (“CCC”) emphasizes that, during its investigative proceedings, the principles of natural justice must be adhered to, in the sense that the parties have the right to be heard.

Hearings will be conducted during either of the following stages:

  1. The hearings during the investigations process;
  2. Hearing by the Director before publication of notice of compulsory recall of defective goods; and
  3. Hearing before the Committee for the Initial Determination (“Committee”) of cases.

The CCC notes that in regard to hearings for the initial determination of cases, hearings are not intended to be the major source of information because the primary method of information gathering will be gleaned from responses received from the
“Notice of Investigation” that will first be sent in terms of  Article 21(6)(a) and 22(1) of the Regulations.

When will the CCC hold hearings?

  1. May hold hearings during investigations (at any time);
  2. Shall hold a hearing:
    • Before making recommendations;
    • Before taking decisions; and
  3. (In its consumer-protection role only:) Before the CCC publishes a notice of a compulsory product recall.

Hearing procedure once it has been determined that a hearing will be held

  1. The CCC shall give fifteen working days notice to all of the parties involved;
  2. A notice will be published to invite interested parties;
  3. Notice of the main issue must be given within ten working days and will provide the main issues identified and the main questions that will be raised (any other questions may still be raised at the hearing as long as “they are reasonably related to the matter under investigation.

During the Hearing

  1. The Committee will test the evidence before it and interrogate the CCC’s team that conducted the investigation.
  2. The party under investigation will also be provided the opportunity to:
    • Clarify and develop the evidence that it provided during the investigation;
    • Comment on and rebut evidence and information supplied by other parties; and
    • Make further representations, which may, in relevant cases, address the question of whether a practice has public benefits that may offset any adverse effects on competition.

After a Committee has been convened to hear the matter:

  1. Any party required to attend the hearing must be given twenty-one days’ notice of the hearing date.
  2. Upon application by a party, a pre-hearing can be requested to confirm that all of the parties can attend the hearing and have received all documentation relied on by the other party.

After the conclusion of the hearing, a decision will be made by the Committee within forty-five days. If the Committee finds that the respondent has breached the Rules or Regulations, in “appropriate instances” a remedy can be discussed.

Any party has a right of appeal and will do so in accordance with Rule 24(d), (e) and (f) of the COMESA Rules, 2004.

CCC seeks input on Settlement, other, Guidelines

The Agency is seeking stakeholder comments with a deadline of Nov. 12th, 2021. The (draft) Settlement Guidelines are modeled expressly after European and Zambian precedent (as opposed to U.S.-American law, which is not mentioned as a source), and include key provisions that lay out the procedure envisioned by COMESA.

In this article, we discuss the Settlement Guidelines draft, which has been published (in addition to Hearing Procedure and Fines Guidelines). Key elements for a respondent party entering into the Settlement procedure outlined in the draft include:

  • Settlement (negotiations) may occur “before or after having sight of the Commission’s case.” (Section 3.7);
  • that any settlement, other than in Article 20 proceedings, must include an admission of liability (Section 4);
  • settlements are to achieve “procedural efficiency” and the “possibility of setting a precedent.”  (Ibid.);
  • a rather onerous 4-factor list of requirements demanded of parties opting for a settlement procedure, including (a) liability acknowledgement, (b) commitment to pay CCC’s fines or other remedies imposed pursuant to the Regulations (with an understanding that the party has been made aware of the maximum fine amount previously), (c) acknowledgement of procedural transparency, and (d) agreement not to seek additional access to the file or request further hearings on the matter. (Section 6);
  • both the CCC as well as the affected party may withdraw from the procedure, with notice (Ibid., points 3-6);
  • submissions made during the settlement procedure are not publicly available (nor to complainants), instead they are only made available for viewing (not copying) to other addressees of the investigation who are not settling (Ibid., point 7);
  • COMESA member state competition authorities (NCAs) will be sent copies of the settlement submissions, under the same safeguard rules (Ibid., point 8);

Section 8 covers CCC investigations pursuant to all Articles other than Art. 20, i.e., Arts. 18, 21, and 22 investigations brought by the Commission.  It lays out a time frame and procedure akin to what AAT perceives as a “quasi-leniency regime”, as it requires similarly onerous commitments: admission of liability, full disclosure of evidence related to the conduct at issue and its “implementation”, as well as a commitment to cease and desist from engaging in the conduct.  The respondent party is subject to strict gag orders of non-disclosure of materials obtained during the investigation and settlement procedure, and it may propose “undertakings” to the CCC, which the Commission is not obligated to accept (point 7).

COMESA Competition Commission logo

The draft Settlement Guidelines highlight “efficiency, absence of subsequent litigation, and savings on resources” as three incentives for settlement (Section 12), although it is unclear to us how the CCC envisions to achieve legal certainty as to the second factor, namely protecting the settling respondent(s) from future follow-on litigation in other jurisdictions outside COMESA.  Clarity in this regard will be required, as this promise appears to be unenforceable as an extraterritorial application of the COMESA Regulations and Guidelines.  

Mergers: 1st failure-to-notify penalty — Helios now gets what Akzo avoided in 2017

The COMESA Competition Commission (“CCC”) is stepping up to the plate in 2021, and nobody can deny it. The days of ignoring the CCC’s jurisdiction over M&A deals, joint ventures, and even anti-competitive agreements in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa are decidedly over, as the antitrust enforcer has significantly increased its presence and visibility in the legal and business communities over the past 6 months.

In its latest bid to be considered by the antitrust community to rank among the leading African competition-law agencies, the CCC has issued its first-ever failure-to-notify fine on mobile-phone infrastructure providers Helios Towers Limited (“Helios Towers”), Madagascar Towers S.A (“Madagascar Towers”) and Malawi Towers Limited (“Malawi Towers”) for failure to notify the transaction within the prescribed 30-day time period under Article 24(1) of the COMESA Competition Regulations of 2004. Helios Towers is a UK-based telecommunications company, listed on the LSE and a constituent of the FTSE 250 stock index; it operates in the Democratic Republic of Congo within the COMESA region.

COMESA Competition Commission logo

As we previously reported in 2017 (here and here), to AAT’s knowledge the only other reported transaction that came close to being fined for a failure to be notified by the merging parties was the paints deal between Akzo Nobel and Sadolin / Crown Paints: “In that transaction, the parties boldly proclaimed that the CCC simply did not have any statutory jurisdiction at all,” says attorney Andreas Stargard, an expert in African competition law. Indeed, four years ago, Akzo’s spokespeople flatly claimed that their deal fell “outside the CCC’s purview,” as “[w]e do not have a merger going on; we are a fully independent plant, so COMESA does not come into the picture at all.”

The COMESA’s CID observed that the Parties should have filed their merger notification on 22nd April 2021 in accordance with Article 24 (1) of the Regulations, but breached it.

Interestingly, as to the comparatively low amount of the fine, the CCC took into account significant mitigating aspects pursuant to Article 26(6), including these five considerations:

  • The breach was unintentional;
  • The delay in filing did not yield any “discernible advantage” to the Parties;
  • The breach did not result in any loss or harm in the market;
  • The Parties cooperated with the Commission from the time they were engaged leading to the merger being notified on 2nd July 2021 following their initial engagement; and
  • The Parties have no record of contravention with the Regulations.

Therefore, the CCC merely imposed a 0.05% fine (instead of the statutory maximum under Art. 24(5) of 10% of the parties’ turnover in the preceding calendar year in the common market). AfricanAntitrust.com confirmed this 0.05% figure with a CCC executive, clarifying that this percentage amounted to a fine of U.S. $102,101. Mr. Stargard noted his understanding that the CCC’s positioning of this fine at the extremely low end of the permissible spectrum denotes not only the parties’ significant cooperation and other mitigating factors, outlined above, but also represents a nod by the Commission to the fact that this is the first-ever enforcement action of its kind, and therefore “should not set a precedent in both substance and amount.”

The Parties may appeal the decision (available to AAT readers here) to the full Board of Commissioners in accordance with Article 15(1)(d) of the Regulations as read together with Rule 24 (e) of the COMESA Competition Rules of 2004.

The Commission’s Registrar, Ms. Meti Disasa, stated that “the fine was the first of a kind for breach of the Regulations. The Commission therefore wishes to remind Undertakings in the Common Market to be cautious of the prescribed timeline for notifying mergers in under Article 24 (1) of the Regulations.” Ms. Disasa warned undertakings operating in the Common Market “to comply with all other parts of the Regulations especially with respect to anti-competitive conduct as the Commission shall henceforth not take lightly any breaches of the regional competition law,” according to the CCC’s press release, also noting that “the decision to fine has no impact on the Commission’s assessment of any competitive effects of the merger, which is still ongoing.”

Podcast explores latest developments across Africa

The latest episode #122 of Sheppard Mullin’s popular NOTA BENE podcast features Primerio’s Andreas Stargard, exploring “Africa Q2 Check In: Economic Growth and Relevance.”

Africa continues to strive for economic growth through various trade partnerships and foreign investments, but long-standing challenges remain an impediment in certain respects. Is Twitter’s decision to open an African base in #Ghana any indication of the continent’s economic potential? We’re joined by #Africa competition and markets expert, Andreas Stargard, a co-founding senior member of Primerio Ltd., as he shares insights on Africa’s economic outlook in Q2 of 2021.

You can listen to it for free on all major ‘podcatchers,’ including here:

Uganda misses $5m Common Market payments, gets “suspension”

As the local Daily Monitor reports, landlocked COMESA member state Uganda — ruled since January 1986 by authoritarian president Museveni — has failed to make requisite payments under the COMESA Treaty to the supra-national regional organization. Its arrears date back over two years, according to sources, and amount to roughly U.S. $4 to 5 million. Arrears carry with them a 1% per annum interest rate.

COMESA’s Secretary General has officially reprimanded the Ugandan government and placed the nation on the organization’s “sanction bracket.” Andreas Stargard, an attorney with Africa boutique law firm Primerio Ltd., notes that being sanctioned carries with it the nation-state’s loss of all privileges of COMESA membership, including its key free-trading benefits, during the duration of the sanctions being imposed. “It also means that Ugandan officials are not permitted to address official COMESA bodies, nor are Ugandan citizens permitted to be appointed to, or hired by, COMESA organs. It remains to be seen whether this suspension of Uganda will impact competition-law enforcement in any direct, appreciable way — what comes to mind is merger notification and the impact that Uganda’s being sanctioned may have on cooperation between the CCC and Ugandan authorities.”

The outstanding debt is all the more concerning as Museveni’s administration, in an attempt to cling to power after 35 years, recently reportedly spent large sums out of the state’s coffers on military-grade weaponry to prepare for the chaos precipitated by the recent hotly-disputed elections.