AAT, AAT exclusive, Access to Information, COMESA, commissioners, dominance, EAC, East Africa, exemptions, Kenya, market study

COMESA Competition Commission: 2019 Regional Sensitization Workshop

On 9-10 September 2019, the Comesa Competition Commission (CCC) hosted its 6th  “Regional Sensitization Workshop for Business Reporters on Competition Law and Trade Developments within the Common Market” workshop in Nairobi, Kenya as part of its advocacy initiative to promote competition law and enforcement activities across the COMESA region.

AfricanAntitrust, having attended last year’s event, was again invited to attend the event and senior contributor and competition lawyer, Michael-James Currie, attended the event on behalf of AAT and participated in a serious of panel discussions and informal interactive sessions with members of the CCC and Competition Authority of Kenya.

Attendees

The workshop was well attended with a year on year increase in attendees reflecting the importance and popularity of this initiative. The CCC should be congratulated on a well organized and structured workshop.

Patrick Okilangole, Board Chairperson of the CCC, opened the event by highlighting the importance of competitive domestic markets to  “realize the benefits of trade; multilateral and bilateral trade agreements recognize the need to guarantee that restrictive business practices do not hinder the positive effects of free trade”.

Protectionist policies was identified by Okilangole as one of the key impediments to effective regional growth and trade. More specifically, Okilangole highlighted the following consequences of protectionist policies:

“(i)     Ineffective competition policy frameworks. Over the past few years, competition law has been enacted in several Member States of the Common Market. However, in some countries, competition frameworks have included:

(ii)      unjustified and discretionary exemptions, for example, utilities managed by the state in key economic sectors,

(iii)     lack of sufficient investigative powers and tools in the current national and regional legislation to deter anticompetitive behaviour,

(iv)    lack of independency in decision making since competition agencies report to and their decisions may be vetoed by a ministry, and

(v)     significant government intervention in markets such as price controls in potentially competitive markets, controlling essential products, margins, and geographic areas.”

Okilangole reaffirmed the true hallmark of an effective competition law regime, namely that competition law should be focused on protecting the competitive process and not a particular competitor. “The rules are not meant to punish large companies on account of their size or commercial success. The key feature of the competition rules is to create a level playing field for all business players in the market.”

Okilangole’s remarks were echoed by the Chief Executive Officer of the CCC, George Lipimile who emphasised the need to move away from protectionist policies in order to realise the benefits that flow from increased regional trade.

Restrictive business practices, particularly abuse of dominance practices and collusion were identified by Lipimile as being particularly prevalent within COMESA and that increased enforcement activities are required, both by the CCC and regional agencies, to detect and prosecute anti-competitive behaviour.

The workshop was also used as an opportunity to present and engage on the CCC’s Guidelines on Restrictive Business Practices (which were approved in April 2019). The objective of the Guidelines is to provide greater clarity, predictability and transparency in relation to the analytical framework which will be used to evaluate alleged anti-competitive conduct. The Guidelines also provide greater guidance on the process and circumstances in which the CCC may grant exemptions.

The CCC was well represented (so to was the CAK) and senior investigators, analysts and members from the executive team provided useful insights into the enforcement activities of the CCC as well as what lay ahead in the pipeline. Attendees were invited to engage, debate and where appropriate raise concerns regarding the efficacy of competition law enforcement in COMESA. It is this willingness to be open and engage proactively with constructive criticism which is perhaps the hallmark of this CCC initiative and certainly welcomed by the attendees.

As to enforcement updates, the CCC put together comprehensive presentations both in relation to merger control and restrictive business practices more generally. We highlight some of the more noteworthy developments below.

Merger Control

Willard Mwemba, manager of mergers and acquisitions at the CCC, confirmed that over 230 transactions have been notified to the CCC between 2013 and July 2019. Of these, 17 were approved subject to conditions.

From a merger trend perspective, the CCC witnessed an increased shift in merger notifications in traditional sectors, such as agriculture and construction, to emerging sectors such as energy, banking and financial services with the most active member states including Kenya, Zambia, Mauritius, Zimbabwe and Uganda.

As to merger activity in COMESA, Mwemba confirmed that there has been a decrease in merger activity in the first half of 2019, largely as a result of a decrease in global activity and that the value of transactions that occurred within the first half of 2019 dropped from USD 527 billion to USD 319 billion for the same period in 2018. This is also consistent with the 19% decrease in the number of notifiable transactions globally.

The combined total turnover value of all mergers assessed by the CCC to date amounts to over USD 110 billion. Although 2019 figures were not presented, the CCC highlighted that total Foreign Direct Investment in COMESA grew in 2016 from USD 18.6 billion to USD 19.3 billion in 2017 representing nearly half of Africa’s total FDI inflows. Again, highlighting the significance of the COMESA market in the global space.

Enforcement Activities

Although the CCC has had an active merger control regime in place for many years, a number of commentators have raised the lack of robustly investigated and prosecuted abuse of dominance or cartel cases as a key hindrance to effective competition law enforcement in COMESA. While the CCC acknowledges that more should be done in this regard, below is a list of non-merger matters which the CCC has concluded in past three years:

Exemptions

Matter Sector Affected Member States
Assessment of the supply agreement between Eveready East Africa Limited and Supreme Imports Limited Lighting bulbs Burundi, DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia
Assessment of the supply agreement between Eveready East Africa Limited and Sayyed Engineers Limited Writing implements East Africa
Assessment of the supply agreement between Eveready East Africa Limited and Chloride Egypt SAE Automotive Batteries Burundi, DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda
Assessment of the Distribution Agreement between John Deere (Proprietary) Limited and AFGRI Zimbabwe Private Limited Agriculture Equipment Zimbabwe
Assessment of the Distribution Agreement between the Wirtgen Group and the Motor Engineering Company of Ethiopia Agriculture and Construction Equipment Ethiopia
Assessment of the Distribution Agreement between the Wirtgen Group and UMCL Limited Agriculture and Construction Equipment Comoros, Mauritius, Seychelles
Assessment of the Distribution Agreement between the Wirtgen Group and Sodirex SA, Madagascar Road Construction Machinery Madagascar
Application for the Joint Venture Agreement between Kenya Airways PLC, Koninklijke Luchvaart Maatscahppij NV (KLM) and Societe Air France SA Aviation Kenya
Assessment of the distribution agreements between Unilever Market Development (Pty) Limited and Distributors in the Common Market  FMCGs DRC, Madagascar, Mauritius,

Determination of Anti-Competitive Conduct: Procedure of Commission on its own volition

Matter Sector Affected Member States
Investigation into the Distribution Agreements entered into between Eveready East Africa Limited and Clorox Sub Saharan Africa Bleaching agents East Africa
Investigation into the Distribution Agreements entered into between Parmalat SA (Pty) Limited and its Distributors Milk and dairy products Eswatini, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe
Investigation into the Distribution Agreements between Coca-Cola Beverages Africa and Distributors in the Common Market Non-alcoholic beverages Comoros, Ethiopia, Uganda

False or Misleading Representation 

Matter Sector Affected Member States
Misleading Advertising by Fastjet Airlines Limited Aviation Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe

The CCC also confirmed that they are currently conducting a number of market screening initiatives across priority sectors. Following the conclusion of these screening exercises, the CCC will decide whether to prosecute any firms engaged in restrictive business practices.

As part of the CCC’s efforts in detecting and investigating anti-competitive behavior, the CCC has increased its collaborative efforts with domestic member agencies and has established the “Restrictive Business Practices Network” to increase the efficacy of cross-border cases.

Currie Panel Discussion

[Michael-James Currie speaking on a panel discussion on “How to improve the quality of reporting on regional integration and competition law related matters” facilitated by Mr Mwangi Gakunga from the Competition Authority of Kenya]

Conclusion

In light of the tripartite negotiations between SADC-EAC-COMESA as well as the negotiation of competition policy in terms of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, it is imperative that the CCC develops an effective competition enforcement regime which assists and incentivizes free trade across the relevant markets. To do so, the CCC must be equipped with the necessary resources to ensure that it has the capacity to effectively execute its policies.

Despite the significant challenges faced by the CCC, it is encouraging to note that the CCC is taking a more robust approach to detecting and prosecuting anti-competitive practices in the COMESA market and are endeavoring to do so in accordance with international best practices.

If the CCC is able to deliver on the objectives and action items which were discussed in detail at the workshop, then there is every reasons to look forward to a more active CCC in the months to come with interesting cases likely to be brought to the fore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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AAT, AAT exclusive, East Africa, fraud/corruption, jurisdiction, Kenya, mergers, mobile, public-interest, Telecoms, Uncategorized

Kenyan Competition Watchdog suspends Telkom Kenya / Airtel deal

Multiple regulatory agencies, competitor complaints and public interest concerns has posed a significant impediment to the proposed merger between Telkom Kenya and Airtel.

The Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) recently announced that the Kenyan Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) is investigating Telkom Kenya amidst allegations of corruption in relation to historic transactions which gave rise to the current shareholding in Telkom Kenya.

The CAK’s decision to suspend the assessment of the merger was announced approximately a week after the Communications Authority of Kenya also suspended its assessment of the transaction pending the outcome of the EACC’s investigation.

The Communications Authority’s investigation will likely include an assessment of a complaint filed with the agency by Safaricom, a competitor to the merging parties.

Furthermore, the deal was also opposed by certain Telkom employees, ostensibly on the basis that their jobs were at risk should the deal go ahead.

Accordingly, the parties appear to have a long road ahead of them before clearance to implement the deal is granted.

The proposed transaction has no doubt attracted an additional degree of scrutiny as the telecom sector in Kenya is a significant market and there have been a number of disputes regarding the CAK’s jurisdiction to assess anti-competitive conduct, particularly abuse of dominance conduct, in this sector. A study into the telecom sector prepared by the Communications Authority was presented to Parliament in 2018. The CAK objected to the findings and remedial actions contained in the report which the CAK argued would amount to “price regulating” by the Communications Authority. Instead, the CAK urged the Communications Authority to focus rather on features of the market which raise barriers to entry or preclude effective competition between competitors.

While Parliament has, as far back as 2015, urged the Communications Authority to consult the CAK before making any determination regarding a telecom service providers’ “dominance”, subsequent litigation led to a High Court ruling in 2017 which confirmed that the Communications Authority’s powers vis-à-vis competition related matters remain vested exclusively with the Communications Authority.

The concurrent jurisdiction between the CAK and the Communication’s Authority has created somewhat of an enforcement discord – at least in so far as assessing abuse of dominance cases are concerned.

The fact that both the CAK and the Communications Authority have decided to suspend their assessments of the proposed merger following the outcome of the EACC’s investigation suggests that the outcome of the EACC’s investigation is relevant to both the CAK and Communication Authority analysis of the proposed transaction. This in turn, seemingly appears that there is at least an overlap in relation to the key issues under assessment by the respective agencies. Assuming there is indeed an overlap between the CAK and the Communication Authority’s assessment of the proposed transaction that naturally raises the risk of having two agencies come to different conclusions based on the same facts.

Telkom Kenya, however, remain confident that the merger will ultimately be cleared by all regulators.

Telkom Kenya have indicated that the merger will have significant pro-competitive and pro-public interest benefits which will have a positive impact on employees (and the market more generally). Whether the CAK conducts a comprehensive assessment between the short term negative impact on employment versus long term positive impact remains to be seen.

Assuming the proposed deal does not raise any traditional competition issues, it cannot therefore be ruled out that the transaction will be approved subject to public interest related conditions regarding retrenchments and/or re-employment obligations.

Whatever decision is ultimately reached, one hopes that the authorities will publish detailed reasons based on a robust assessment of the evidence in order to provide greater objectivity and transparency as to the analysis which is undertaken by the CAK when analyzing a merger – both from a competition and public interest perspective.

The CAK has in the past number of years have made significant positive strides forward in this regard and is deserved of the recognition it receives as one of the most active and robust competition authorities in Africa.

[Michael-James Currie is senior contributor to AAT and a practicing competition lawyer who has assisted clients with competition law related matters in multiple jurisdictions across Africa]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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AAT exclusive, new regime, no antitrust regime, public-interest, South Africa

Book Review: “Making Markets Work for Africa: Markets, Developments and Competition Law in Sub-Saharan Africa” by Eleanor M. Fox and Mor Bakhoum

Thanks to the diverse and on-going commitments by our contributors, AfricanAntitrust is considered the leading resource tracking competition law developments across the continent. AfricanAntitrust has, over the past number of years published numerous articles, updates and expression pieces by numerous contributors both in an effort to ensure our readership remains up to date on all regulatory developments in Africa, and also to stimulate robust debate on competition policy and enforcement across the continent.

Developing countries have unique socio-economic issues and market dynamics which many have argued justify a unique approach to the role competition law policy should play.

The editors at AfricanAntitrust were, therefore, particularly interested in the book authored by well-known Professor, Eleanor Fox and co-author Mor Bakhoum . AAT is honoured to have been requested to provide a book review and indebited to John Oxenham, Andreas Stargard and Michael-James Currie for their commentary below.

The book’s title Making Markets Work for Africa: Markets, Developments and Competition Law in Sub-Saharan Africa provides significant insight into its subject matter and the topics covered. As an introductory remark, the content provides a concise but necessary introduction to the social, political and economic challenges which underpin most sub-Saharan jurisdictions. Readers who may not be familiar with the jurisdictions covered in the book will find this useful for purposes of contextualising the competition policy debate and the nuances which underpin this debate.

After sketching an overview of the economic and political background, the authors go on to detail the relevant competition laws and the application thereof across the sub-Saharan jurisdictions.

The authors have, usefully, selected certain key enforcement activities in each of the jurisdictions covered in an effort to demonstrate the robustness of the respective agencies’ enforcement activities.

The authors then do a neat job of teeing up the crux of the debate, should competition law in developing countries converge towards a ‘global standard’ (which in this context refers primarily to US and EU precedent) or rather, do market and socio-political challenges which are often unique to most sub-Saharan countries, require a different set of rules, benchmarks or policy outlooks to competition policy and enforcement. In this regard, the authors provide a useful platform for debate among competition lawyers, economists, academics and law makers alike.

The book was not intended to provide a complete and robust assessment of the multitude of policy options available when developing competition law. Further, the authors have elected not to engage in a highly technical critique or assessment of the key decisions which have shaped competition policy across the African continent. Rather, the authors highlight the need to consider and debate different policies.

The authors correctly highlight South Africa as the “golden standard” insofar as competition law enforcement in developing countries is concerned – particularly in relation to the role of public interest enforcement in merger reviews. The authors discuss the seminal case in this regard, namely the Walmart/Massmart merger, as the foundation from which numerous subsequent mergers have been approved subject to public interest related conditions.

While the Walmart/Massmart merger was finally approved in 2013, the authors may consider, in subsequent editions, whether the substantial litigation and interventionist risks which are inherent in assessing public interest factors in competition law enforcement (particularly merger control) can be quantified. A departure from traditional competition law standards and precedent, particularly with the introduction of subjective considerations, is likely to increase the scope for litigation and interventionist strategies which may hinder the very objectives sought to be advanced.

The authors do, however, recognise that when assessing competition policy, one must consider the objectives of the policy against its practical enforcement – particularly in light of the principle of rule of law and sound economic analysis. The book certainly does not profess to ignore these and at numerous instances expressly or implicitly acknowledges that a transparent and objective competition enforcement regime is critical.

With the “hipster antitrust” movement ostensibly gaining traction in the US and EU, South Africa (and indirectly Africa more generally) it would appear there is a more mainstream deviation from traditional competition law enforcement. It certainly suggests a uniform standard in competition policy may become even more difficult to sustain. Alternatively, it may be the inherent complexity and trade-offs which are always at play in developing competition policy which may in fact necessitate a form of convergence. The authors give some insight into these trade-offs and the various factors which legislators and practitioners should take into account.

The authors also raise a number of issues which are often left out of the policy debate, yet play a crucial role in the efficacy of competition law enforcement in developing countries.

Factors such as political interference, corruption (as an overarching concern) and the limited resources available to many African competition agencies contribute to certain markets remaining inaccessible to new entrants and preclude efficiencies from materialising to the benefit of consumers. The authors point out, quite correctly, that judgments or decisions by agencies are often entirely devoid of substantive reasons let alone robust economic analysis.

The above recognition further reinforces the need for objectivity and transparency in developing competition enforcement regime.

Finally, readers will find the authors’ discussion on the regional blocs in Africa (COMESA, SADC, EAC) and explore the level of harmonisation between these regional blocs and their respective members states.

The timing of the book in this regard could not be more apposite in light of the current negotiations regarding a uniform African competition policy as contemplated by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

We congratulate the authors on this important and well researched text.

 

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AAT exclusive, dominance, new regime, South Africa, Uncategorized

CRESSE CONFERENCE GREECE 2019: SOUTH AFRICAN AMENDMENT ACT

Africanantitrust regular contributors John Oxenham, Michael-James Currie and Stephany Torres (Primerio and Nortons Inc) authored and presented a paper on the role of non-competition law factors in competition law enforcement at the 2019 CRESSE Conference in Rhodes Island, Greece in early July 2019.

Motivated by the recent, but significant, amendments to South Africa’s Competition Act, the timing of the authors’ paper could not have been better scripted. The Amendment Act was brought into effect on 12 July 2019 – a week after presenting the paper to an esteemed delegation of competition law practitioners and economists.

The paper, titled “South African Competition Law – The role of non-competition factors in enforcing unilateral conduct: Forging ahead or falling behind?” explores the socio-economic context and objectives which underpin the recent amendments to South Africa’s legislation and highlights the expansion of what is often termed “public interest” considerations in competition law enforcement beyond merger control.

Most notably, the authors contextualise the policy debate before providing an in-depth discussion of the new thresholds and standards against which certain abuse of dominance conduct will now be assessed.

The Amendment Act introduces a public interest standard, namely what the effect of certain conduct by dominant entities will have on the ability of “small, medium businesses and businesses owned by previously disadvantaged persons” to participate effectively in the market”.

Looking specifically at the price discrimination and buyer power provisions, the paper notes that, notwithstanding the noble objectives of the Amendment Act, there are potentially a number of unintended consequences which require further deliberation so as not to dampen pro-competitive conduct.

In relation to the price discrimination provisions, the authors conclude that:

Accordingly, in light of:

  • the low market share threshold applicable to “dominant” entities;
  • the uncertainty regarding the threshold that must be met in order to sustain a case of prohibited price discrimination;
  • the evidentiary burden on a respondent to essentially prove a negative in relation to section 9(3); and
  • the threat of an administrative penalty for a first-time offence (potentially on both the South African business and its parent),

the price discrimination provisions pose a material risk to companies in South Africa who have a market share above 35%.”

As part of the presentation of the paper, it was noted that competition policy globally is constantly evolving. Issues such as “big data” and “data protection” have called on antitrust commentators to question whether the existing laws remain adequate to address broader consumer harm concerns. In South Africa, the authors point out that while the South African competition agencies have traditionally turned to European and US precedent in relation to antitrust enforcement, the socio-economic factors which have shaped competition policy in South Africa (at least from Government’s perspective) is unique and constitutes a substantial departure from more established jurisdictions.

Competition policy globally is, therefore, likely to be more divergent than convergent in the next few years.

In concluding, the authors point to the inordinate responsibility placed on the shoulders of the competition agencies in South Africa to exercise their discretion and develop a body of precedent as soon as possible that would hopefully provide practitioners and business with a more objective and transparent benchmark against which to assess their conduct. A task which could prove highly complex as the authorities will inevitable need to develop an objective basis for quantifying public interest considerations – an inherently subjective exercise.

To obtain a copy of the paper, please email the AAT editor by following the contact link below.

 

 

 

 

 

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AAT exclusive, Grocery Retail Market Inquiry, market study, South Africa, Uncategorized

SOUTH AFRICA: COMPETITION COMMISSION PUBLISHES INTERIM REPORT RE GROCERY RETAIL MARKET INQUIRY

By Charl van der Merwe

Introduction

The South African Competition Commission (“SACC”) on Wednesday 29 May 2019 released its interim report on its findings in the Grocery Retail Sector Market Inquiry (“Inquiry”).

The Inquiry’s terms of reference, published in October 2015, mandated the SACC to investigate:

  • The impact of the expansion, diversification and consolidation of national supermarket chains on small and independent retailers in townships, peri-urban and rural areas and the informal economy;
  • The impact of long term exclusive lease agreements entered into between property developers and national supermarket chains, and the role of financiers in these agreements on competition in the grocery retail sector;
  • The dynamics of competition between local and foreign national operated small and independent retailers in townships, peri-urban areas, rural areas and the informal economy;
  • The impact of regulations, including inter alia municipal town planning and by-laws on small and independent retailers in townships, peri-urban areas, rural areas and the informal economy;
  • The impact of buyer groups on small and independent retailers in townships, periurban areas, rural areas and the informal economy;
  • The impact of certain identified value chains on the operations of small and independent retailers in townships, peri-urban areas, rural areas and the informal economy.”

The Inquiry received extensive submissions from industry stakeholders including large grocery retailers (“larger retailers”), FMCG suppliers, banks, shopping center property developers (“property developers”) and small and independent retailers.  The public hearings of the Inquiry were held in all major cities during April 2017 to November 2017 with further ‘informal hearings’ in smaller towns across South Africa.  The Interim Report was hailed by SACC Commissioner, Tembinkosi Bonakele (“Commissioner”) at the media briefing on 29 May 2019 as the most comprehensive study into all elements of the grocery retail sector.

Industry stakeholders will have a further opportunity to engage with the SACC on the findings of the interim report and to present further written submissions before Friday 28 June 2019. The Final Report is expected to be released on 30 September 2019.

Key Findings

Long Term Exclusive Lease Agreements and Rental Costs

The Inquire placed great emphasis on the practice of long term exclusive lease agreements entered into between large retailers and property developers apropos new shopping malls and other property developments. The Inquiry found that these exclusive lease agreements range for periods of up to 45 years, constituting what the Inquiry termed unnecessary artificial barriers to entry.

A central focus of the Inquiry was the significant market power of the large retailers which enable large retailers to negotiate long term exclusive lease agreements, lower rental fees and more favorable rebates from suppliers.

The Inquiry found that property developers are reliant on the large retailers’ participation in new property developments (as anchor tenants) as they attract customers to the development and are also required by banks and other financial houses to advance funding to property developers. It is noteworthy that the Inquiry found that contrary to the submissions made by large retailers, finance houses do not demand exclusivity (only a fixed terms commitment from an anchor tenant). The practice of exclusivity was introduced by the large retailers as compensation for risk.

The Inquiry found that the prevalence of the long term exclusive lease agreements had the effect of reinforcing the levels of concentration in the market as the ‘process’ repeats itself which each new  development. While this does mean that new competitors are foreclosed from the market, significantly, it also excludes small and independent specialist retailers such as butcheries, bakeries etc, which, according to the Inquiry, deprive consumers of ‘bespoke’ or ‘craft’ products which characterizes the retail sector in other areas of the world.

The Inquiry found the submissions made by the large retailers as ‘not compelling’ and has recommended that:

  • Large retailers immediately cease enforcing exclusivity provisions against specialty stores (which was undertaken by the large retailers); and
  • Exclusivity clauses be ‘phased out’ within 3 years (and no new lease agreements be entered into that contain exclusivity) in order to allow new entrants into developments.

A second but related finding of the Inquiry is that large retailers are able to use their bargaining power to negotiate lower rental fees in property developments which, according to the findings, causes property developers to increase rental fees for small and independent stores in order to ‘recoup’ the discount offered to the large retailers.

The Inquiry heard evidence from a variety of small retailers and specialty stores (as well as property developers) that the higher rental fees in property developments hinders entrance or leads to the failure of small retailers and specialty stores. Interestingly, the Inquiry did not make any recommendations in this regard and, instead, called for further submissions on the commercial realities and possible remedies.

Rebate Structures

The Inquiry found that that the large retailers also enjoy significant market power, compared to independent retailers and wholesalers, as they provide a key route to market for suppliers. Accordingly, the Inquiry found that large retailers are able to extract more favorable trading terms than that which wholesalers and/or buying groups are able to negotiate. Interestingly, however, the Inquiry found that large retailers are able to extract larger rebates than buyer groups, despite the larger volumes purchased by buyer groups.

According to the SACC chief economist, James Hodge, the primary concern is not ‘basic rebates’ which are also available to buyer groups and wholesalers but rather the ‘special retail rebates’ (e.g. distribution center rebates, store opening rebates, advertising rebates etc.) which are not available to wholesalers or buying groups.

In this regard, the Inquiry found that the justification for these ‘special retail rebates’ are unconvincing as the knock-on effect is that the independent retailers or specialty stores at the retail level (who purchase stock from wholesalers and buyer group) face higher costs and cannot compete with the large retailers.

The Inquiry recognizes that rebates are not inherently anti-competitive and can often be justified. The Inquiry further found that the current rebate structures cannot be easily changed without commercial disruption. The Inquiry, therefore, did not make any recommendations and, instead, invited industry stakeholders to engage with the Inquiry in order to address the issue.

Other

The Inquiry also recommend intervention, through regulation, by a “single government department”. The department was not specified due to the uncertainty on whether the Economic Development Department (“EDD”) will remain in its current form. The EDD has now been subsumed into the Department of Trade and Industry (“DTI”), which will be headed by former EDD minister, Minister Ebrahim Patel. The DTI is, therefore, likely to be nominated as the relevant governmental department.

As an alternative, the Inquiry recommend an industry code of conduct, which requires buy in from industry stakeholders to agree on and implement policies which would otherwise cause commercial disruption.  Industry codes appear to be increasingly finding favour with the SACC as a form of soft enforcement. There is currently a draft Code of Conduct published in relation to the Automotive Aftermarket.

In this regard, the SACC Commissioner noted that the grocery retail sector is a sector which is known around the world for being highly regulated and, according to the Inquiry, is not conducive to the levels of concentration experienced in South Africa. The Commissioner, therefore, remarked that the sector cannot wait for the slow and costly process of regulating conduct through enforcement and should, instead, be remedied through ideally am industry code of conduct and/or regulation.

Asked to comment on the impact of the Code, John Oxenham says that “the timing of the Code is noteworthy in light of the Competition Amendment Act and draft buyer power and price discrimination regulations having been published. Dominant entities involved in the FMCG sector, will likely have to carefully evaluate their trading terms to ensure that they are objectively justifiable not only in light of traditional competition law principles but also public interest related objectives“.

Fellow competition lawyer, Michael-James Currie concurs with Oxenham and suggests that “while rebates can be anti-competitive, there needs to be robust evidence and a clear theory of harm before an anti-competitive finding. This ordinarily requires a case specific assessment based on the facts at hand which may make ‘industry wide’ reforms difficult to monitor and enforce. Likewise, rebates are nor per se anti-competitive and therefore industry wide reforms or blanket thresholds may have unintended consequences and potentially have adverse effects on consumer welfare.”

Oxenham suggests that a “carefully balanced approach must be taken in this regard, although this appears to be recognized by the SACC“.

It is clear from the Report that industry participants will ultimately need to justify and support any alleged pro-competitive effects based on clear and objective evidence.

 

 

 

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AAT exclusive, merger documentation, mergers, new regime, Nigeria

Plus ça change… Merging parties should continue as before in Nigeria

FCCPA in effect – but not quite, as FCCPC not yet fully operational

As AAT reported previously, the landmark Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA) that suddenly went into effect in Nigeria earlier this year has not quite been operationalised.  Notably, the agency that is supposed to be tasked with enforcing the FCCPA, the Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) is currently “undergoing construction”, so-to-speak.  An African competition-law practitioner with Primerio notes that “apparently there has been some political wrangling around the constituents of the FCCPC’s Board,” which is unsurprising, to say the least.  One might be inclined to say, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…, as politics has always played a major role in Nigerian enforcement.

That said, the AAT editor does understand that, at a minimum, the Director General of the existing Consumer Protection Council, Babatunde Irukera, will serve in some capacity with the FCCPC — it is unknown whether the remaining 5 CPC commissioners will likewise continue to act for the FCCPC or not.  (Screenshots of his Twitter account below, indicating a full-blown transition from the CPC to the FCCPC).

One indication of the lack of the FCCPC’s operational status when it comes to mergers is that its web site (presumably soon to be http://fccpc.gov.ng/) still yields an error message.  Another is a recent joint statement issued by the SEC and its yet-to-be-established counterpart, which provides in relevant part as follows:

In order to ensure continuing and seamless commercial transactions and market operations, SEC and FCCPC have come to a mutual understanding with respect to these transactions within the transition period, which pursuant to this notice commences immediately, and shall remain in force until otherwise discontinued by further Advisory or Guidance.

During this transition period, starting today, May 3rd, 2019:

  • All notifications or fillings will be reviewed under existing SEC Regulations, Guidelines and Fees.
  • Notifications will be filed at FCCPC OR SEC/FCCPC Interim Joint Merger Review Desk at SEC.
  • All applicable fees will be paid to the FCCPC.
  • SEC and FCCPC will jointly review notifications and FCCPC will convey decisions with respect to the notifications.

Notifications previously received by SEC, but yet to be decided, will be subject to the interim process above and FCCPC will convey the decisions accordingly.

We will update AAT’s readership with new intel as soon as it becomes available.  For the time being, the status quo remains largely intact.  Says Andreas Stargard, an antitrust practitioner:

For now, merger parties should proceed as before, namely: analyse your transaction under the Investment & Securities Act (ISA), and file with either the SEC or the FCCPC — some advise to file with the SEC for the time being, if applicable, as the lack of full operational status of the FCCPC does not bode well for procedural thoroughness or guaranteed document retention in this early phase.  That said, if your transaction has a longer time horizon, with closing potentially several months down the road, your counsel should take into account the very real possibility of there being a notification under the FCCPA, even if none was required under the ISA.  I expect the FCCPC to set merger notification thresholds very soon.”

Osayomwanbor Bob Enofe, an academic and proponent of the Nigerian competition law notes, however, that the current interim arrangement “only suggests to me that the SEC currently leads, concerning merger enforcement in Nigeria, rather than clarifying that the FCCPC is not existent (especially given the transitional period established by the two Commissions).”  He continues: “The erstwhile CPC might be revamped to reflect a more competition-law cognisant staff base,” noting that “various competition law offences now exist in Nigeria,” of which cartel conduct is punishable not only my monetary fines but also criminally under the FCCPA.

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AAT exclusive, Appellate Review, BRICS, collusion, South Africa, Uncategorized

South Africa: Trilogy of Rulings Against the Competition Commission Demonstrates the Importance of Following Proper Procedure

In three recent decisions, two by the Competition Tribunal and one by the Competition Appeal Court, a number of important procedural flaws were exposed in the manner in which certain complaints were initiated against various respondents. The Competition Appeal Court even made an adverse costs order against the Competition Commission in one of the cases. We discuss these important decisions below.

Misjoinder of Parent Company

The South African Competition Commission (“SACC”) had recently alleged that Power Construction (West Cape) Pty Ltd (“West Cape”) and Haw and Inglis (Pty) Ltd (“H&I”) colluded in respect of a tender submitted to South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL). The tender was in respect of maintenance services. The SACC alleges both parties had contravened section 4(1)(b)(ii) and (iii) of the South African Competition Act (the “Act”).  The parent company of West Cape, Power Construction (Pty) Ltd (“Power Construction”) was cited as a respondent on the basis that it would be liable to pay the administrative penalty. Power Construction, had engaged in “with prejudice” settlement negotiations.

The SACC refused the proffer and informed Power Construction that after having  considered the settlement proceed that it was clear that Power Construction and West Cape (being the subsidiary of Power Construction) shared a majority of their respective directors which, according to the SACC, was sufficient to implicate Power Construction in the alleged collusive conduct. Accordingly, the SACC alleged that any Administrative Should be calculated using the higher annual turnover figures of Power Construction.

Power Construction disputed this, arguing that it was never alleged by the SACC that Power Construction had contravened the Act. The SACC then opted to amend its referral to include Power Construction. On application to the South African Competition Tribunal (“Tribunal”), the Tribunal dismissed the proposed amendment on the basis that the SACC had failed to provide any material evidence to establish a prime facia case in favour the relevant amendment, stating that the burden remains on the applicant to prove that it is deserving of the amendment by putting sufficient factual allegations before the Tribunal.

In conclusion, the Tribunal also confirmed that the amendment could regardless have been rendered excipiable based on prescription. In this matter, the alleged conduct ceased more than three years prior to the Commission becoming aware of the conduct.

Prescription

In a further case, namely the Competition Commission and Pickfords Removals SA, regarding the interpretation of section 67(1) of the Act (namely that dealing with prescription), the Competition Appeal Court (“CAC”) was very recently called to decide on the correct date for the running of prescription in terms of section 67(1) of the Act.

The SACC (being the appellant in the matter), brought an appeal to the CAC after the Tribunal held that the complaint initiated by the SACC was time barred in terms of section 67 of the Act.

The SACC disputed this and submitted that prescription in terms of section 67 of the Act should only commence from the date on which the Commissioner or Complainant acquired knowledge of the prohibited practice and, alternatively, that the Tribunal has a discretion to condone non-compliance with this 3-year time period. The latter issue was central to the dispute.

The question was further complicated by the fact that the SACC filed two compliant initiations against the respondents. The SACC submitted that the so called ‘second initiation’ was merely an amendment to the first initiation. So the SACC argued, even if the time period had begun running when the practice had stopped, the time period in question would still not have expired.

In this regard, the CAC held that the SACC has the power to amend a compliant initiation and that it must be taken at its word on whether a second initiation is an amendment to the first or a separate and distinct complaint initiation. This is so, particularly where both complaint initiations concern the same conduct, in the same market and where the first complaint initiation states that the conduct is ongoing.

In relation to the issue of prescription, the CAC held that section 67 cannot be equated with section 12 of the South African Prescription Act which provides for prescription to commence  from the moment on which the “creditor acquires knowledge of the identity of the debtor and the relevant fact from which the debt arises”. Section 49B(1) of the Prescription Act provides for a much lower threshold, being the ‘reasonable suspicion of the existence of a prohibited practice’.

Accordingly, it must be accepted that the time bar in section 67 is intended to be a limitation of the Commissioner’s wide ranging powers (to prevent investigation into historic matters which are no longer in the public interest) and that the knowledge requirement contained in the Prescription Act cannot be read into this limitation as argued by the SACC. It follows then, based on this reasoning that there can similarly be no condonation by the Tribunal or the CAC on these matters.

For completeness sake, the CAC confirmed the general understanding that, for purposes of section 67, the alleged prohibited conduct will be deemed to have ceased on the date on which the respondent last benefited from the prohibited conduct (e.g. the date on which it last received payment under the agreement). In this regard, the Tribunal initially ordered the parties to produce evidence of the date on which the last payment was received. The CAC deemed this appropriate and opted not to interfere with this order.

Condonation and Costs

The Tribunal was also called recently upon to decide two interlocutory applications, the first being a condonation application brought by the SACC in terms of section 54 of the Act for the late filing of its revised trial bundle (containing an additional 1221 pages), which was opposed by the respondents (Much Asphalt and Roadmac Surfing) and finally a counter application for costs against the SACC.

In terms of the condonation application, the SACC sought to revise the trial bundle on the basis that the revised trial bundle contained documents which were essential to its case (which were inadvertently omitted from its initial bundle) and had been re-organized in a manner that was less burdensome for all the parties involved. In support, the SACC argued, that the respondents wouldn’t be prejudiced by the late filing as the extra documents had already been discovered.

The Tribunal confirmed that the test for condonation must be ‘good cause shown’ by the SACC which should be assessed on case by case basis. The Tribunal held that the SACC had not shown good cause in this matter as it had ample time to furnish the respondents with the revised bundle and further found that filing the revised bundle at the 11th hour was unnecessarily prejudicial to the respondents.

south_africaIn terms of applications for costs, the respondents sought an order for wasted costs in relation to the postponement due to the late furnishing of the bundle as well as the cost of defending the application for condonation. Importantly it should be borne in mind that the Tribunal does not as a matter of course make cost orders against the SACC.  In this regard, the Constitutional Court has previously held that the Tribunal does not have the powers to make adverse cost orders against the SACC, even where the SACC has abused its powers. The general rule is that the parties pay their own costs. The Tribunal may only make cost orders against third parties and, accordingly, dismissed the respondent’s application for costs.

John Oxenham, director of Primerio says that these cases demonstrate the objectivity and impartiality of the adjudicative bodies which is an encouraging sign for respondents who do not believe that the case brought against them is procedural or substantively fair.

Fellow competition lawyer, Michael-James Currie says it is unfortunate that only the Competition Appeal Court makes adverse costs rulings and that the Competition Tribunal is precluded from doing so. Adverse costs ruling against the SACC should be reserved for matters in which there was clear negligence in the manner in which a case was investigated, pleaded or prosecuted. Such costs orders would, however, go a long way in ensuring that parties and in particular the prosecution agency, does not refer cases  to the adjudicative bodies (which have limited prospects of success) with no downside risk in losing the case.

Oxenham shares Currie‘s sentiment and suggests that adverse costs orders against the Commission will likely result in a more efficient enforcement regime as cases will be settled more expeditiously and respondents will be more reluctant to oppose the Competition Commission’s complaints with the knowledge that the SACC is confident in its case and prepared to accept the risk of an adverse costs order.

[The Editor wishes to thank Charl van der Merwe for his contribution to this article]

 

 

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