Akzo rejects CCC notification request, claims no ‘failure-to-file’ in paint deal

Paint giant goes on offensive against COMESA request for retroactive merger filing

By AAT Editors

As AAT first reported here on Sept. 26, the COMESA Competition Commission has launched its first failure-to-file investigation into an M&A transaction (here, likely, a licensing deal), specifically involving Dutch commercial paint giant AkzoNobel and paint brand “Sadolin“.

Today’s news, reported in local Ugandan media, is that AkzoNobel’s Director for Decorative Paints in Sub-Saharan Africa, Johann Smidt, made strong comments at the “relaunch” of Sadolin Uganda, claiming that Akzo’s reassignment of the Sadolin brand name & distribution network to Crown Paints East Africa falls outside the CCC’s purview.”  This sentiment was echoed by Crown’s CEO, Rakesh Rao, saying that “[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.

Competition lawyers caution that, on occasion, a business person’s notion of what constitutes a “notifiable transaction” can be at odds with the legal definition thereof, says Andreas Stargard,  an antitrust attorney with Primerio Ltd.

“Whilst they may not be a classic ‘merger’ or ‘acquisition’ in the eyes of the business people, certain types of exclusive licensing agreements or even patent or other IP [intellectual property] assignments may very well fall within the purview of competition regulators, including the COMESA Comp Com.,” said Stargard.

The facts surrounding the transaction itself are by all accounts, fairly confounding.  As best as one can interpret the media reports, the former AkzoNobel license agreement was one with an entity called “Sadolin East Africa” (SEA).  However, upon the purchase of SEA by Japanese company Kansai Plascon (AKA “Plascon Uganda” in the region), Akzo cancelled the agreement and has now entered into a new replacement license with Crown Paints (AKA Regal Paints).  It is the cancellation and reassignment that, according to two letters sent by the CCC on September 19th and 25th, requesting that the companies make retroactive merger-notification filings to bring them into belated compliance with the COMESA merger regime.

For now, we know that Akzo remains defiant (presumably basing its critical position on advice of legal counsel), with its local director stating that “whatever we have done to date has been within the laws of this country and this region”.

While some of Akzo’s statements were presumably vetted by antitrust counsel, others are at odds with a “good” antitrust story and appear to be less-carefully made proclamations: Akzo has said that “we believe that we are going to improve competition because we have a new player who is introducing a new product and an existing player, who is Sadolin and we will continue to be here,” yet its director also noted “that the war of words between Sadolin and Plascon had eaten into their market share and that this had influenced their quick agreement with Crown paints”.

As attorney Stargard observes, “it is usually not considered to be an effective antitrust defence to claim that a competitor has ‘eaten into your market share’, and that your actions that are now under investigation were motivated by said competition…”

Advertisements

EAC poised to pressure remaining members into antitrust enforcement

By AAT staff

On the heels of the COMESA Competition Commission launching its first-ever “failure-to-file” merger investigation, the East African Community (EAC) Competition Authority is poised to dip its toes into the waters of being operational — but it will require its member states to active enforcement programmes of their own, says the agency head.

There are hurdles to the regional body of the African Great Lakes, as our sources point out: only two out of the EAC’s six members states — namely Kenya and Tanzania — have working antitrust enforcement authorities at the moment.  Having only one-third of a supra-national organisation’s members being versed in competition enforcement is a hindrance to the EAC Authority’s competence and pragmatic effectiveness, said chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Sam Watasa at the agency’s 2nd meeting at the organisation’s Arusha headquarters.  He is quoted as saying:

“Kenya and Tanzania have operational National Competition Agencies, Rwanda and Burundi had enacted laws but are yet to be operationalised. In Uganda there was a draft Competition Bill.”

M&A news: First publicly reported failure-to-file accusation in COMESA

Commission goes after Dutch paint manufacturer in Uganda in supra-national enforcement action threat

By AAT staff

The African expansion saga of Japanese paint manufacturer Kansai continues, albeit not in Southern Africa (after having travailed through a hostile takeover of South African paint company Freeworld Coatings and obtaining a majority stake in Zimbabwean competitor Astra Industries in 2010 and 2013, respectively): the current Kansai-related antitrust story is a COMESA one, which comes to us from East Africa.

As was reported back in 2013 in industry publication CoatingsWorld, Kansai had set its sights on expanding into Eastern Africa as well, focussing on the Sadolin brand (formerly owned by AkzoNobel and since its private equity buy-out produced under a continuing AkzoNobel licence and under the parent label Crown Paints).

This has now changed, says competition attorney Andreas Stargard with Primerio Ltd.: “Recently, the COMESA Competition Commission had become aware of press reports that AkzoNobel had withdrawn its Kansai/Sadolin licence in Uganda (a COMESA member state) and effectively entered into — or planned to enter into — a new agreement with an unnamed ‘local producer’.”

Mr. Stargard, who practices competition law with a focus on African companies and jurisdictions, points out that the COMESA merger-notification regime requires a mandatory filing under certain conditions, such as those affecting 2 or more member states and involving businesses with at least $10m in combined regional revenues.

“Whilst the COMESA review is non-suspensory (meaning the parties must notify, but can go ahead and implement the transaction prior to the termination of the CCC’s antitrust review), the notification itself is mandatory.  A failure-to-file can result in significant fines of up to 10% of combined turnover, as well as the regional annulment of the merger within the COMESA countries.

This is what has now happened with Mr. Lipimile’s Sept. 19th letter to AkzoNobel: the CCC chief warned the company that it would risk voiding any contracts if it failed to make a ‘curative’ retroactive filing by yesterday, Monday, 25 September 2017.”

The CCC’s letter to the Dutch paint giant reads in relevant part: “Kindly be informed that the COMESA competition commission has become aware through the media that Akzo Nobel Powder Coatings has entered into sales, manufacturing and distribution agreements with a local paint manufacturer in Uganda.  I wish to inform you that, mergers and any other forms of agreements between competitors are required to be notified to the Commission….without such notification, and subsequent approval by the Commission, such transactions are null and void ab initio and no rights or obligations imposed on the participating parties shall be legally enforceable in the Common Market.”

As to the likelihood of any notification having been made — or at least made satisfactorily and completely —  Andreas Stargard observes that:

“By any antitrust lawyer’s standards, scrambling to make a filing within less than a week, as seems to be required by George’s letter here, is a tall order — merger notifications usually require significant preparatory work, including data analysis, document collection, and interviews with the business people to advance to a final ‘filing’ stage.  To do so in 6 calendar days is extremely difficult.”

He concludes that, “as COMESA is still a relatively young regime in terms of merger filings — with few resources at hand to manage notifications in and of themselves, much less enforcement actions — we expect that the CCC and the parties will somehow arrive at an amicable settlement in this matter.”

Adverse effects of price-fixing: East Africa recognises drawbacks

It is not really news, but worth mentioning as it is literally happening simultaneously: As the most developed antitrust enforcement jurisdiction in Africa, South Africa, charges ahead with heavy-handed actions, such as denying alleged currency manipulators “access to file” in the investigative process, or accusing two livestock-feed processors of colluding in the sales and pricing of animal feed ‘peel pulp’, the East African nations lag behind.

What is news, however, is that they have begun to recognise the shortcoming and the adverse effects of collusion and other anti-competitive conduct on their economies: Andreas Stargard, an antitrust lawyer with Primerio Ltd., notes that the head of the East African Community (EAC), Mr. Liberat Mfumukeko, recently addressed ongoing antitrust violations in the EAC: “The Secretary denounced anti-competitive practices (cartels and the like) as serious obstacles to obtaining foreign direct investment in the region.  Moreover, he recognised the violations as ‘impeding effective competition’ and thereby directly hurting African consumers,” says Stargard.

Mr Mfumukeko is quoted as stating: “The EAC markets pose challenges to investors and consumers including the charging of high prices arising from anti-competitive practices such as cartels. These practices impede effective competition in the markets.”

Within the EAC, Stargard notes, the primary jurisdictions with operational antitrust regimes are Kenya and Tanzania, with others such as Uganda lagging behind even farther, having no competition legislation or only having draft bills under review.  Most other nations lag behind, although, as Mr. Stargard observes, many are part of the broader COMESA competition regime.  “The COMESA rules, however, have thus far been enforced with a primary objective of merger regulation,” he says, “effectively failing to police any collusive conduct in the close to two dozen member states at all, despite the explicit prohibition thereof in the COMESA regulations.”

Kenya Corporate Leniency Policy: Immunity for both Administrative and Criminal Liability on the Table

By Michael-James Currie

The Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) has finalised its Leniency Policy Guidelines (Guidelines) as published in the Government Gazette in May 2017. This follows amendments to the Kenyan Competition Ac which now caters for the imposition of a maximum administrative penalty of 10% of a respondent’s turnover if found to have engaged in cartel conduct.

Unlike its South African counter-part, the CAK has sought to provide immunity to whistle-blowers who are “first through the door” from both criminal and administrative liability. A key proviso in respect of obtaining immunity from criminal liability, however, is that the Director of Public Prosecution must concur with the CAK.

The South African Competition Commission’s Corporate Leniency Policy only offers immunity in respect of administrative penalties. Accordingly, directors who caused or knowingly acquiesced in cartel conduct may be criminally prosecuted under South Africa’s leniency policy despite being the whistle-blower.

It should be noted that the CAK will only engage the Director of Public Prosecution when granting conditional immunity. At this stage of the leniency application, the applicant would already have had to disclose its involvement in the cartel conduct and provide the CAK with substantial evidence of the relevant conduct sufficient to establish a contravention of the Competition Act.

Accordingly, the Guidelines do not cater for the possibility that the Director of Public Prosecution may not be willing to forego criminal prosecution in respect of the leniency applicant. It is, therefore, not clear whether the evidence which was disclosed to the CAK as part of a leniency application may be used against the applicant should the Director of Public Prosecution not grant immunity in respect of criminal liability.

In this regard, it would have been useful if the Guidelines catered for this risk. For instance, by expressly affirming that the Director of Public Prosecution would abide by the CAK’s recommendations unless there are compelling reasons not to. Absent this assurance, potential leniency applicants may be reluctant to approach the CAK for leniency until there is, at the very least, a clear indication of the Director of Public Prosecutions involvement in this process.

A welcome feature of the CAK’s Guidelines, however, is that fact that the Guidelines specifically extend leniency to a firm as well as to the firm’s directors and employees. The inherent conflict which may arise between the interests of the company versus the interests of the relevant directors, therefore, has been removed.

A further significant aspect of the Guidelines is that the Guidelines do not limit the granting of leniency (in respect of administrative penalties) to the respondent who is ‘first through the door’ only. A second or third respondent would also be eligible for a reduction of the administrative penalty of 50% and 30% respectively, provided the CAK is provided with material “new evidence”. Only a respondent who is ‘first through the door’, however, will qualify for immunity in respect of criminal liability – provided the respondent is not the “instigator” of the cartel.

The Guidelines also provide a framework which sets out the process which must be followed in applying for leniency including the steps which must be taken in respect of ‘marker’ applications.

As to who may apply for leniency, it is noteworthy that while a parent company is entitled to apply for leniency on behalf of its subsidiary, the reverse is not true on the basis that a subsidiary does not control the parent company. Accordingly, in fully fledged joint ventures for example, only one of the parties to the JV may apply for leniency (to the extent that the JV contravenes the Competition Act) and, therefore, the parent company should be the entity applying for leniency and not the legal entity which is in fact the party to the JV.

[Michael-James Currie is a competition law practitioner practicing in South Africa as well as the broader African region]

The African WRAP – JUNE 2017 edition

The first half of 2017 has been an exciting one from a competition law perspective for a number of African countries. As certain agencies have taken a more robust approach to enforcement while others have been actively pursuing or developing their own domestic competition law legislation. Further, there is an increasingly prevalent interplay between domestic laws with regional competition law and policy in an effort to harmonise and promote regional integration.

In this addition of the WRAP, we highlight some of the key antitrust developments taking place across the continent. The editors at AAT have featured a number of articles which provide further insight and commentary on various topics and our readers are encouraged to visit the AAT Blog for further materials and useful updates.


AAT is indebted to the continuous support and assistance of Primerio and its directors in sharing their insights and expertise on various African antitrust related matters. To contact a Primerio representative, please see the Primerio brochure for contact details. Alternatively, please visit Primerio’s website


 

Kenya

Grocery Market Inquiry

On 27 January 2017, the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) exercised its powers in terms of section 18 (1) (a) of the Competition Act, 2010, to conduct a market inquiry into the branded retail sector.

The key issues which the CAK’s will focus on during the inquiry include:

  1. the allocation of shelf space and the relative bargaining power between retailers and their suppliers;
  2. the nature of and the extent of exclusive agreements at one stop shop destinations and their effects on competition;
  3. the pricing strategies retailers employ especially in regards to responding to new entrants;
  4. whether there are any strategic barriers to entry created by incumbent firms to limit entry in the market; and
  5. the effect of the supermarkets branded products on competition

Legislative amendments

The Kenya Competition Act (Act) has undergone a number of amendments in the past year.

Most notably, however, section 24 of the Act, which deals with abuse of dominance generally, has been amended to also cater for an abuse of “buyer power”.

Without being exhaustive, a number of practices which would typically constitute an abuse of dominance include:

  1. imposing unfair purchasing or selling prices;
  2. limiting or restricting output, market access or technological advancements;
  3. tying and/or bundling as part of contractual terms; or
  4. abusing intellectual property rights.

In terms of the definition of “dominance” in the Act, a firm will be considered dominant if that firm has greater than a 50% market share.

The amendment, as drafted, raises a number of concerns as previously noted on AAT.

Botswana

Merger control – Prior Implementation

On 17 February 2017, the Competition Authority of Botswana (CA) prohibited a merger between Universal House (Pty) Ltd and Mmegi Investment Holdings (Pty) Ltd.

The CA prohibited the merger on the grounds that the transaction was likely to lead to a substantial prevention or lessening of competition in the market. In particular, the CA held that the “market structure in the provision of commercial radio broadcasting services will be altered, and as such raises competition and public interest concerns”.

At the stage of ordering the divestiture, a suitable third party had not yet been identified and the merging parties were obliged to sell the 28.73 shares to a third party “with no business interests affiliated in any way with the acquiring entity”. The divestiture was also to take place within three months of the CA’s decisions and, should the thresholds be met for a mandatorily notifiable merger, the CA would require that the proposed divestiture also be notified.

South Africa

Follow-on Civil Liability

A second civil damages award was imposed in 2017 on South Africa’s national airline carrier, SAA, following the Competition Tribunal’s finding that SAA had engaged in abuse of dominance practices, in favour of Comair. This award comes after the first ever successful follow-on civil damages claim in South Africa (as a result of competition law violation) which related to Nationwide’s civil claim against SAA.  In the Nationwide matter, the High Court awarded, (in August 2016) damages to Nationwide in the amount of R325 million.   Comair claim for damages was based on the same cause of action as Nationwide’s claim. The High Court, however, awarded damages in favour of Comair of R554 million plus interest bring the total award to over a R1 billion (or about US$ 80 million).

Please see AAT’s featured article here for further insights into this case.

Market Inquiries

The SACC published a notice in the Government Gazette on 10 May 2017, indicating that it will conduct a market inquiry into the Public Passenger Transport sector (PPT Inquiry) which is scheduled to commence in June 2017.

The PPT inquiry, is expected to span two years and will involve public hearings, surveys and meetings with stakeholders which will cover all forms of (land-based) public passenger transport. The SACC indicated in its report that “…it has reason to believe that there are features or a combination of features in the industry that may prevent, distort or restrict competition, and / or to achieve the purpose of the Competition Act”.

Legislative amendments

The South African Competition Commission (SACC) recently published draft guidelines for determining the administrative penalty applicable for prior implementing a merger in contravention of the South African Competition Acts’ merger control provisions (the Draft Guidelines).

In terms of the penalty calculations, the Draft Guidelines prescribe a minimum administrative penalty of R5 million (USD 384 615) for the prior implementation of an intermediate merger and a R20 million (USD 1.5 million) penalty for implementing a large merger prior to being granted approval. The Draft Guidelines cater further for a number of aggravating or mitigating factors which may influence the quantum of the penalty ultimately imposed.

Egypt

Investigations

The Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA), has also referred the heads of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to the Egyptian Economic Court for competition-law violations relating to certain exclusive marketing & broadcasting rights. This follows the COMESA Competition Commission also electing to investigate this conduct.

In addition, it has been reported that the ECA has initiated prosecution of seven companies engaged in alleged government-contract bid rigging in the medical supply field, relating to hospital supplies.

Mauritius

Minimum resale price maintenance

In a landmark judgment, the Competition Commission of Mauritius (CCM) recently concluded its first successful prosecution in relation to Resale Price Maintenance (RPM), which is precluded in terms of Section 43 of the Mauritius Competition Act 25 of 2007 (Competition Act).

The CCM held that Panagora Marketing Company Ltd (Panagora) engaged in prohibited vertical practices by imposing a minimum resale price on its downstream dealers and consequently fined Panagora Rs 29 932 132.00 (US$ 849,138.51) on a ‘per contravention’ basis. In this regard, the CMM held that Panagora had engaged in three separate instances of RPM and accordingly the total penalty paid by Pangora was Rs 3 656 473.00, Rs 22 198 549.00 and Rs4 007 110.00 respectively for each contravention.

Please see AAT’s featured article here for further information.

Leniency Policy

The global trend in competition law towards granting immunity to cartel whistleblowers has now been embraced by the Competition Commission of Mauritius (CCM). The CCM will also grant temporary immunity (during the half-year period from March 1 until the end of August 2017) not only to repentant participants but also to lead initiators of cartels, under the country’s Leniency Programme.

COMESA

The COMESA Competition Commission (CCC) announced early 2017 that it will be investigating allegations of exclusionary conduct in relation to the Confederate of African Football’s (CAF) decision to extend an exclusive marketing of broadcasting rights and sponsorship agreement with Lagardère Sports in relation CAF tournaments.

Please see AAT’s featured article here for more information.

What to look out for?

Zambia

Guidelines

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) published series of guidelines and policies during 2016. These included adopting a formal Leniency Policy as well as guidelines for calculating administrative penalties.

In addition, the CCPC also published draft “Settlement Guidelines” which provides a formal framework for parties seeking to engage the CCPV for purposes of reaching a settlement. The Settlement Guidelines present a number of practical challenges as currently drafted. One example is that the guidelines don’t cater or seem to recognise “without prejudice” settlement negotiations.

It is anticipated that the draft Settlement Guidelines will be formally adopted this year.

Please click here to read the feature article on AAT.

Namibia

In April 2017, the CEO of the Namibian Competition Commission (NCC), Mr. Mihe Gaomab II, announced that the NCC has made submissions to the Minister of Trade and Industry in relation to proposed legislation which will regulate franchise models in Namibia.

While recognising the benefits of franchise models, the NCC is, however, concerned that there are a number of franchises in Namibia which may be anti-competitive in that the franchisor-franchisee relationship creates certain barriers to entry.

The NCC has specifically identified the practice, by way of an example, whereby certain franchisors deliberately ensure that there is a lack of competition between franchisees in the downstream market. The rationale behind this commercial strategy is allegedly so that the franchisor may extract greater royalties or franchise fees from the respective franchisees, as the franchisee is assured of a lack of competition.

The NCC views this practice as well as a various similar practices as potentially anti-competitive as the structure of certain franchise models may result in collusion between franchisees.

For further commentary on this development, please see AAT’s featured article.

Nigeria

Nigeria remains, for now, one of the few powerhouse African economies without any antitrust legislation. The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill of 2016, however, recently made it past the initial hurdle of receiving sufficient votes in the lower House of Representatives.  The Bill is, therefore, expected to be brought into effect during the latter part of 2017 or early 2018.

South Africa

Market inquiries

The Minister of the Department of Economic Development, who has fulfills the oversight function of the South African Competition Authorities, has announced that a market inquiry will be conducted in relation to the “high costs of Data” in South Africa.

This would be the fifth formal market inquiry since the Competition Act was amended to afford the Competition Commission with formal powers to conduct market inquiries.

Complex monopoly provisions

Both Minister Patel and the President have announced that the Competition Act will undergo further legislative amendments in order to address perceived high levels of concentration in certain industries.

In this regard, it is likely that the competition amendment act’s provisions relating to abuse of dominance and complex monopolies, which was drafted in 2009, will be brought into effect.

In terms of the provisions, as currently drafted, where five or less firms have 75% market share in the same market, a firm could be found to have engaged in prohibited conduct if any two or more of those firms collectively act in a parallel manner which has the effect of lessening competition in the market (i.e. by creating barriers to entry, charging excessive prices or exclusive dealing and “other market characteristics which indicate coordinated behavior”).

Please see AAT’s feature article here for further commentary.

Pan-African Antitrust Round-Up: Mauritius to Egypt & Tunisia (in)to COMESA

A spring smorgasbord of African competition-law developments

As AAT reported in late February, it is not only the COMESA Competition Commission (CCC), but also the the Egyptian antitrust authorities, which now have referred the heads of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to the Egyptian Economic Court for competition-law violations relating to certain exclusive marketing & broadcasting rights.  In addition, it has been reported that the Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) has also initiated prosecution of seven companies engaged in alleged government-contract bid rigging in the medical supply field, relating to hospital supplies.

Nigeria remains, for now, one of the few powerhouse African economies without any antitrust legislation (as AAT has reported on here, here, here and here).

But, notes Andreas Stargard, an antitrust attorney with Primerio Ltd., “this status quo is possibly about to change: still waiting for the country’s Senate approval and presidential sign-off, the so-called Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill of 2016 recently made it past the initial hurdle of receiving sufficient votes in the lower House of Representatives.  Especially in light of the Nigerian economy’s importance to trade in the West African sphere, swift enactment of the bill would be a welcome step in the right direction.”

The global trend in competition law towards granting immunity to cartel whistleblowers has now been embraced by the Competition Commission of Mauritius (CCM), but with a twist: in a departure from U.S. and EU models, which usually do not afford amnesty to the lead perpetrators of hard-core antitrust violations, the CCM will also grant temporary immunity (during the half-year period from March 1 until the end of August 2017) not only to repentant participants but also to lead initiators of cartels, under the country’s Leniency Programme.

The Executive Director of the CCM, Deshmuk Kowlessur, is quoted in the official agency statement as follows:

‘The policy worldwide including Mauritius, regarding leniency for cartel is that the initiators of cartel cannot benefit from leniency programmes and get immunity from or reduction in fines. The amnesty for cartel initiatorsis a one-off opportunity for cartel initiators to benefit from immunity or up to 100% reduction in fines as provided for under the CCM’s leniency programme. The amnesty is a real incentive for any enterprise to end its participation in a cartel. In many cases it is not clear for the cartel participant itself as to which participant is the initiator. The participants being unsure whether they are an initiator finds it too risky to disclose the cartel and apply for leniency. The amnesty provides this unique window of 6 months where such a cartel participant can apply and benefit from leniency without the risk of seeing its application rejected on ground of it being an initiator.’

 

COMESA Competition Commission logoFinally, COMESA will grow from 19 to 20 member states, welcoming Tunisia at the upcoming October 2017 summit: the official statement notes that “Tunisia first applied for observer status in COMESA in 2005 but the matter was not concluded. In February, 2016 the country formally wrote to the Secretary General making inquiries on joining COMESA. This set in motion the current process towards its admission. once successfully concluded, Tunisia will become the 20[th] member of COMESA.”

This means that within 6 months of accession to the Common Market, Tunisia’s business community will be bound by the competition regulations (including merger control) enforced by the CCC.  Speaking of the CCC, the agency also recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Mauritian CCM on March 24, facilitating inter-agency coordination.  In addition, the Zimbabwean Competition and Tariff Commission (CTC) will host a national sensitisation workshop on COMESA competition policy on May 16, 2017 in Harare, purportedly as a result of “over 50 transactions involving cross-border mergers notified” to the CCC involving the Zimbabwean market.  “The main objective of the national workshop is to raise awareness among the key stakeholders and business community in Zimbabwe with regards to the provisions and implementation of COMEA competition law,” the CTC noted in a statement.

 

Kenya: CAK Formally Initiates a Market Inquiry into the Retail Sector

On 27 January 2017, the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) exercised its powers in terms of section 18 (1) (a) of the Competition Act, 2010, to conduct a market inquiry into the branded retail sector.

The notice, as published in the Government Gazette and signed by CAK Director General Wang’ombe Kariuki stated that “the main objective of the study is to assess the state of competition in the market for branded retail by examining the multilayered structure of the market and the conduct of market players. The market inquiry will explore the dimensions and the intensity of competition between branded retailers and how these impact on price, quality and range of offerings to the Kenyan consumer.

The CAK is the third African competition agency to conduct a market inquiry into the retail sector following inquiries in Botswana and South Africa.  The COMESA Competition Commission has also announced that it intends to conduct a market inquiry into the retail food sector, although to date the CCC has not formally initiated such an inquiry.

Unsurprisingly, the focus of the CAK’s inquiry is strikingly similar to the grocery retail market inquiry currently under way in South Africa, with both authorities focusing their attention on large retailers who allegedly engage in practices which distorts competition in the market.  In particular, the CAK will focus on the following issues:

  • the allocation of shelf space and the relative bargaining power between retailers and their suppliers;
  • the nature of and the extent of exclusive agreements at one stop shop destinations and their effects on competition;
  • the pricing strategies retailers employ especially in regards to responding to new entrants;
  • whether there are any strategic barriers to entry created by incumbent firms to limit entry in the market; and
  • the effect of the supermarkets branded products on competition.

The issues listed above are largely common focus areas in market inquiries conducted not only in Africa but also in a number of European countries including France, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the United Kingdom,

Interestingly, the CAK’s market inquiry goes broader than purely competition issues but also has an element of “consumer protection”. For instance, one of the practices which allegedly is a common feature in the industry is what is termed “dual pricing” – where Retailers display lower product prices on the shelf but which are higher at the till.

The CAK will also investigate the rate of recurrence of the sale of defective stock by retailers to consumers and how subsequent complaints by consumers are dealt with by retailers. The CAK intends to establish the proportion of retailers that have fully operational retail return policies and to what extent they are adhered to in an attempt to evaluate whether consumers are adequately protected.

Unlike the South African Competition Act, the Kenya Competition Act also contains specific consumer protection provisions which caters for unfair trade practices and transactions that affect consumer rights such as under-cutting and over-pricing of goods and services as well as the use of misleading information to sell goods and services. This is in addition to Kenya’s self-standing Consumer Protection Act which is governed by the Kenya Consumers Protection Advisory Committee (CPAC).

The CPAC is tasked with, inter alia, facilitating the “co-ordination and networking of consumer activities and the development of linkages with consumer organizations and the competent authorities and agencies locally and outside Kenya for the protection of consumer interests”. The CPAC is, therefore, responsible for monitoring and reviewing the trading and business practices relating to the supply of goods and services to consumers, and to activities related or ancillary thereto.

It remains to be seen to what extent the CPAC is actively involved in the CAK’s market inquiry, particularly in relation to the consumer protection provisions

Focusing our attention back to the competition law implications of the market inquiry, industry players across the retails chain should be particularly cognisant of the recent amendments to the Kenya Competition Act which introduced the concept of “abuse of buyer power”. Africanantitrust previously published an article by Michael-James Currie and Ruth Mosoti who noted that “it is not technically a requirement that a firm be ‘dominant’ in order to be considered to have “buying power”.

Furthermore, the introduction of the “abuse of buyer power” provisions was largely as a result of complaints received by the CAK in the retail sector, particularly by suppliers. In addition, the CAK may well have learnt from market inquiries conducted in other jurisdictions that absent any ‘dominance’ by retailers, there is a limited prospect of successfully prosecuting firms for engaging in practices which ay distort competition in the market. In this regard, Currie and Mosoti stated further that:

“the Kenyan Competition Authority may have thought to pre-empt this challenge and, therefore, included the “abuse of dominance” provisions without requiring a firm to actually be dominant for the provision to be triggered. Furthermore, the definition of “buying power” and the absence of any requirement that the conduct must in fact be anti-competitive may have been an attempt by the legislator to lower the threshold in an effort to assist a complainant in cases where a purchaser, such as a large retailer, exerts “buyer power”, but is not “dominant” in the market.”

Accordingly, in light of the broad scope of the CAK’s market inquiry coupled with the introduction of the ‘abuse of buyer power’ provisions, it is advisable for all players in the Kenyan retail sector to actively consider their business operations, not only from a competition perspective but also from a consumer protection perspective.

Kenya: Competition Amendment Bill to bring about Radical changes to the Act

kenyaThe Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) has recently announced that a number of proposed amendments to the Competition Act are currently pending before the National Assembly for consideration and approval.

The proposed amendments are generally aimed at increasing sanctions and CAK’s authority to detect and prosecute anti-competitive behaviour as well as to ensure that parties provide the CAK with adequate and correct information to properly assess merger notifications.

  • Anti-competitive conduct

Importantly, the amendments seek to introduce a financial threshold for respondents who are found to have engaged in abuse of dominance practices. Currently, there is no administrative penalty for a abuse of dominance.

The amendments further include an administrative cap of 10% for engaging in cartel conduct.

Interestingly, the amendments also seek to introduce measures to protect suppliers from buying groups. Unlike the South African Competition Act which specifically precludes competitors from entering into an agreement or concerted practice which amounts to the fixing of a purchase price or trading condition, Kenya’s Competition Act does not have a similar express prohibition.

It is also not clear, at this stage, what the anti competitive effect of buying groups is having in Kenya. The CAK has, however, indicated that suppliers are often left short-changed as a result of buying groups not paying the suppliers. Whether this has or may have a foreclosure effect on suppliers is noy yet apparent.

In any event, the proposed solution is likely to be resolved through the development of guidelines rather than an amendment to the Act.

  • Mergers

A clear indication that the CAK is increasing its efforts to ensure that they are not merely a regulatory body which rubber stamps merger approvals is the proposed introduction of penalties for merging parties who submit incorrect information to the CAK during a merger filing.

In addition, in terms of Section 47 of the Competition Act, the CAK may revoke their decision to approve or conditionally approve a merger if the merger approval was granted based on materially incorrect or false information provided during the notification and/or the merger is implemented in contravention of any merger approval related conditions.  In terms of the amendments, the CAK is proposing the introduction of criminal liability for merging parties who implement a merger despite the CAK having revoked the merger.

Merging parties will, therefore, need to ensure that they adequately prepare and submit comprehensive merger filings.

As to the definition of what constitutes a “merger” for purposes of the Competition Act, the proposed amendments seek to clarify that a change of control can take place by the acquisition of assets.

  • Market inquiries

Section 18 of the Act is also to be amended to place an obligation on parties to provide the CAK with information during market inquiries.

We have not yet seen the CAK conduct a full blown market inquiry as has been the case in South Africa. In light, however, of the CAK and the South African Competition Commission’s (SACC) advocacy initiatives (readers wlll recall that the CAK and the SACC recently concluded a Memorandum of Understanding), the CAK may soon launch a market inquiry into priority sectors such as grocery retail and agro-processing.

 

 

CCC Begins Conduct Enforcement & Activates Its Exemption Regime for Potentially Anti-Competitive Agreements

Parties Start Discussing Business Practices with COMESA’s CCC

As AAT reported recently — see “Growing Pains: From One-Trick Pony to Full-Fledged Enforcer?” — the COMESA Competition Commission (CCC) has begun to move from being a pure merger-control administrator to becoming a full-fledged antitrust enforcer.  The CCC issued a Notice calling on firms to notify the CCC of any agreements (both historic and forward-looking) that may be anti-competitive, for the purpose of having such agreements ‘authorised’ or ‘exempted’ under Article 20 of the COMESA Competition Regulations.  (More details on that regime are in our June article, referenced above.)

Eveready products (sample)

Eveready products (sample)

AAT has now learned that several companies have taken the agency up on its Exemption proposal: Andreas Stargard, a competition practitioner with Primerio Ltd. observes that the CCC’s announced “leniency ‘window’ to incentivise firms to come forward and obtain an exemption” has closed at this point in time, although he expressed doubt that the relatively short one-month period was sufficient and will likely be extended.  Says Stargard: “We are seeing several parties, both global & local companies, who are beginning to take the CCC’s non-merger enforcement seriously.  These undertakings are considering to obtain advance clearance of their business practices under the Commission’s Notice procedure.”  One such example, he adds, is Kenya’s financially embattled Eveready East Africa: it has reportedly sought CCC approval of its agreements with international manufacturers for the importation and distribution within the COMESA common market of their diverse products, ranging from batteries to fountain pens to CloroCOMESA old flag colorx-brand chemicals.  The Commission has invited “general public and stakeholders” for comments according to its formal statement.

In light of these developments, Stargard advises that:
“multi-national firms operating within COMESA or jointly with a COMESA-based importer or other domestic business partner should consider engaging counsel to evaluate their practices, and if they may fall within Article 16 of the Regulations, consider approaching the CCC for an authorisation letter.”