BRICS, Grocery Retail Market Inquiry, mergers, public-interest, South Africa

South Africa: PepsiCo acquisition of Pioneer recommended for approval, at a price!

On 11 February 2020, the South African Competition Commission (SACC) recommended that PepsiCo’s acquisition of Pioneer Foods, be approved, subject to a number of conditions.

Despite there being no material overlap between the parties which give rise to any competition concerns, the Commission has proposed substantial public interest related conditions – including the establishment of an enterprise development fund and a BBBEE deal worth R1.6 billion in order to spread ownership among historically disadvantaged persons.

It is not yet confirmed whether the merging parties have agreed to these conditions although I strongly suspect that they have so as to avoid third party intervention.

The Commission has, as per its media release, recommended that the Tribunal approves the merger subject to several public interest commitments including:

(i) A moratorium on merger related retrenchments for a certain period;

(ii) The creation of additional jobs at the merged entity;

(iii) Significant investment in the operations of the merged entity, the agricultural sector and the establishment of an enterprise development fund; and

(iv) A B-BBEE transaction to the value of at least R1.6 billion that will promote a greater spread of ownership and participation by workers / historically disadvantaged South Africans.

Many of our readers will recall that the AB InBev/SAB and SAB/Coca-Cola mergers in 2016 were only recommended for approval by the SACC (in the face of Minister Patel’s intervention in these mergers) following the merging parties’ commitment to establish similar development funds. Further, Minister Patel (responsible for the executive portfolio which overseas the competition authorities) has on a number of occasions expressly indicated that he will look to intervene in large mergers by foreign firms in order to extract additional commitments to advance socio-economic objectives.

Those who monitored the AB InBev/SAB transaction will recall that executives of the merging parties engaged Minister Patel directly and negotiated the “public interest” conditions. A transaction of that nature, two of the world’s largest beer manufacturers, took approximately 6 months to obtain final approval in South Africa. Approval which included approximately a R1 billion “development fund”.

Prior to this merger, SAB and Coca-Cola had engaged with the SACC for approximately 18 months in order to obtain approval. After AB InBev acquired SAB, SAB also offered a supplier development and agreed to pay R600 million to this fund. The transaction was approved shortly thereafter. This was despite the Commission not having identified any material competition concerns.

While the merging parties may have consented to these conditions in an effort to avoid protracted hearings before the adjudicative bodies, the blatant extortion of foreign firms seeking to invest in South Africa is concerning and certainly does not assist or support President Ramaphosa’s foreign investment drive. Minister Patel has been prone to utilising market inquiries in an effort to address perceived high levels of concentration in the market (despite the vast unintended consequences of destabilizing those industries, sectors and private firms who are actually sustainable in challenging economic times and offer consumers great products and prices). It would be interesting to have a market study commissioned that attempts to quantify the amount of “lost foreign investment” into South Africa as a result of the political climate, interference and policy uncertainty. The number of jobs and spinoff benefits from that foreign investment is likely to substantially exceed any “supplier development fund” benefits which Patel seems to be vindicated in extracting from those firms who are actually prepared to invest in South Africa. Such a study wouldn’t even be particularly difficult to conduct. Survey foreign firms and ask how interested would they be to invest in South Africa if the merger filing fee for multinational foreign firms was lets say R1 billion (USD65 million)? South Africa would have to be a very attractive environment to operate in to justify that sort of commitment.

 

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AAT exclusive, Angola, Botswana, Grocery Retail Market Inquiry, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uncategorized

Key African Antitrust Highlights of 2019 and What to Keep Tabs on for 2020

The level of antitrust enforcement across Africa has increased markedly over the past decade and with more jurisdictions coming on stream and establishing competition law regimes, the role of antitrust laws and the risk of non-compliance is becoming more pronounced than ever before.

Pan-African competition lawyer, Michael-James Currie, says that the role and applicable standards relating to competition law enforcement in developing countries is more divergent from those established in the more developed jurisdictions. A one-size fits all approach to competition law compliance is becoming less feasible – particularly as the role of public interest or non-traditional competition law factors are increasingly being taken into account in competition policy and legislation. Likewise, the thresholds for establishing “dominance” is generally lower across many of the African jurisdictions than those generally utilised in the United States or Europe and firms’ therefore need to be mindful that the traditional assessments of welfare (whether it is total welfare or consumer welfare) is not necessarily the benchmark. The focus of addressing perceived high levels of concentration in the market and opening up the market to smaller players is hallmark of a number of the more developed African agencies – particularly South Africa and Kenya.

Primerio Director, John Oxenham, says that the next decade of competition law enforcement in Africa is likely to be particularly important as the continent moves closer towards establishing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. The harmonisation between regional bodies and domestic regimes remains an important challenges facing many agencies and this will become all the more relevant as member states negotiate an appropriate competition law framework suitable for the Continent.

Africanantitrust has throughout 2019 provided our readers with updates, opinion pieces and articles capturing the key competition law developments across Africa as they occur and our editors are committed to continuing doing so in 2020.

To start off the year, the editors at AfricanAntitrust provide a snapshot of the key highlights of 2019 as well as some of the most important developments to be expected in 2020 (although there will no doubt be many more).

Nigeria’s new Commission and the recent release of foreign merger control guidelines

In January 2019 the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (the “Act”) was signed into law in Nigeria.

Nigeria did not have a dedicated competition law regime until then. The Act, which is not too dissimilar from the South African Competition Act, will regulate inter alia merger control, cartel conduct, restrictive vertical practices and abuse of dominance.

The Act is not currently being enforced as the Federal Competition and Consumer Commission (the “Commission”) is yet to be formally established although this is expected to take place soon.

In relation to mergers, section 2(3)(d) of the Act empowers the Commission to have regulatory oversight over all indirect transfers/ acquisitions of assets or shares which are located outside of Nigeria, and which results in the change of control of a Nigerian business.

Pursuant to the above-mentioned clause, on 13 November 2019, the Commission published the “Guidelines on the Simplified Process for Foreign to Foreign Mergers with a Nigerian Component”. The Guidelines specifies the type of information which is required in respect of the merging parties, as well as the mandatory supporting documentation which should accompany a filing. Furthermore, the Guidelines assist parties to a foreign to foreign merger by providing explicit rules on how the merger is to be treated, notified as well as the simplified procedure with regards to the merger.

Primerio director, Andreas Stargard notes that the implementation of the Guidelines will be interesting as the Guidelines are the first of its kind in Africa and is largely influenced by the European merger control regime.

The Guidelines also provide information regarding filing fees – although the calculation of filing fees remains somewhat unclear and requires further clarification.

Kenya’s Buyer Power Provisions

In Kenya, the Competition Amendment Act (the Amendment Act) has provided a new provision, Section 24A, which deals with buyer power.

Abusive “buyer power” is now expressly prohibited and any person who engages in such conduct will be considered to have committed an offence. Such an offence carries the penalty of a fine not exceeding 10 million shillings or imprisonment not exceeding 5 years. The abuse of buyer power is, therefore, viewed as a serious offence.

The “abuse of buyer power” is defined in Section 24A (2) of the Amendment Act as the influence exercised by a purchaser to gain more favourable terms, or imposing:

long-term opportunity cost including harm or withheld benefit, which, if carried out, would be significantly disproportionate to any resulting long term cost to the undertaking or group of undertakings”.

In determining whether an abuse of buyer power exists, the Authority will take into account;

  • the nature and determination of contract terms between the concerned undertakings;
  • the payment requested for access to infrastructure; and
  • the price paid to suppliers as stated in section 24A (5) of the Amendment Act.

The above mentioned provision will likely have the effect of affording suppliers greater protection, particularly small suppliers who have a weak bargaining power in comparison to powerful and dominant purchasers. It is furthermore important to protect such suppliers as the negative effects of the abuse of buyer power are often transferred to consumers, for example high prices.

Most notably, as Michael-James Currie has previously pointed out when critically assessing the new buyer power provisions, it is not a prerequisite to prove that the respondent is “dominant” before the provisions of section 24A(2) may be applicable. Rather, the provision considers the bargaining power between a particular supplier and customer. This provision may be particularly harmful to consumer welfare if suppliers who negotiate favourable prices with suppliers which are passed on to consumers, are deterred from doing so due to the risks associated with contravening this provision.

Recent amendments in the Botswana competition landscape

The Botswana Competition Amendment Act recently came into force on 2 December 2019, and is expected to transform competition law in Botswana in various respects, particularly in terms of horizontal restrictive practices, abuse of dominance, exemptions and merger penalties.

Oxenham says that the previous Act did not provide for criminal liability in respect of cartel conduct, however, under Section 26 of the Amendment Act this position has changed. In terms of the Amendment Act, any director or employee who is found to have engaged in restrictive horizontal practices is liable to a fine not exceeding P100 000 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years or to both.

With respect to abuse of dominance, the Act previously did not list particular conduct that was considered to be an abuse of dominance. The Amendment Act provides clarity on the type of conduct that is likely to be considered abusive. The clarification is welcomed and will hopefully ensure greater compliance since undertakings now have the tools to foster a better understanding of what constitutes abuse of dominance and are better placed to ensure that their conduct does not fall foul of the prohibition.

The Amendment Act also caters for exemptions. The terms and conditions of any exemptions will be determined by the Authority who will take both competition law and public interest factors into account when assessing whether to grant an exemption.

In relation to penalties for gun-jumping (i.e. merger implementation prior to approval), the Amendment Act provides much needed clarity. Section 58(3) of the Acts states that implementing a merger without prior approval by the Authority will attract a fine not exceeding 10% of the consideration or the combined turnover of the parties involved in the merger – whichever is greater. Merging parties are, therefore, advised to ensure timeous notification is made in respect of any merger which meets the thresholds for a mandatory filing to seek merger approval in Botswana.

The Amendment Act has also introduced a provision regarding the consideration of a rejected merger.  Parties can apply for reconsideration of a merger within 14 days from the date of rejection. Such a provision provides the parties with an additional opportunity to provide oral evidence which is also a positive development.

Angola’s competition regime coming on stream

The Competition Act in Angola is now fully in force. The Competition Regulatory Authority (the “CRA”) is responsible for prosecuting offences. Conduct which occurred prior to the establishment of the Authority may still be prosecuted in certain circumstances.

The Competition Act prohibits both horizontal and vertical agreements that restrict competition in the Angolan market. Accordingly, undertakings have to be cautious in relation to the types of agreements they enter into as it may result in liability and prosecution by the CRA. The Act does however provide for exemptions from the prohibitions with the exception of abuse of dominance and abuse of economic dependence. Exemptions are only available upon application and the parties must demonstrate that they comply with certain conditions in order to be granted an exemption.

Importantly, Angola’s Competition Act creates a formal merger control regime. Mergers will now be subject to prior notification to the CRA and they have to meet certain specified requirements. The thresholds requiring prior notification are the following:

  • the creation, acquisition or reinforcement of a market share which is equal to or higher than 50% in the domestic market or a substantial part of it; or
  • the parties involved in the concentration exceeded a combined turnover in Angola of 3.5 billion Kwanzas in the preceding financial year; or
  • the creation, acquisition or reinforcement of a market share which is equal to or higher than 30%, but less than 50% in the relevant domestic market or a substantial part of it, if two or more of the undertakings achieved more than 450 million Kwanzas individual turnover in the preceding financial year.

Mergers must not hamper competition and must be consistent with public interest considerations such as:

  • a particular economic sector or region;
  • the relevant employment level;
  • the ability of small or historically disadvantaged enterprises to become competitive; or
  • the capability of the industry in Angola to compete internationally.

The sanctions for non-compliance with the Act’s merger provisions could result in the impositions of fines of 1%-10% of a company’s turnover for the preceding year, as well as other conditions which the Authority deems appropriate. Should a party fail to comply with relevant sanctions or conditions imposed by the Authority or provide with false information, the Authority may levy periodic penalty payments of up to 10% of the merging party’s average turnover daily.

South Africa

  • Amendment Act

In February 2019, the Competition Amendment Act was signed into law and is widely regarded as the most significant amendments to the South African Competition Act in two decades.

The majority of the provisions contained in the Amendment Act have been brought into force. Those amendments – particularly those relating to buyer power, price discrimination and national security approval regarding foreign mergers are expected to be brought into effect in 2020.

Some important aspects of the Amendment Act include:Mergers involving foreign acquiring firms :

The President is to establish a Committee which will be mandated to consider the implementation of mergers which involve a foreign acquiring firm and the potential adverse effect of the merger on the national security interests of the Republic. Essentially this means that a foreign acquiring firm is required to notify both the Competition Commission, as well as file a notice with the Committee. Security interests are broadly defined.

Buyer power

The insertion of Section 8(4)(a) essentially prohibits a dominant firm from requiring or imposing unfair prices or other trading conditions on a supplier that is a small and medium business (“SMEs”) or a firm controlled or owned by historically disadvantaged persons (“HDPs”). This section also introduces a reverse onus on the dominant firm to prove that its trading terms or conditions are not unfair nor that there has been any attempt to refuse to deal with a supplier in order to circumvent the operation of this clause.

The regulations regarding Buyer Power are currently only applicable to the following sectors:

  • Agro-processing;
  • Grocery retail; and
  • Online intermediation services.

Price discrimination

In determining price discrimination by a dominant firm, the Amendment Act has created two parallel self-standing tests. The Act has retained the traditional test for price discrimination which requires proof of a substantial lessening of competition, but has also prohibited a dominant firm from engaging in price discrimination which impedes the ability of Small or Medium Enterprises (“SMEs”) or firms controlled by historically disadvantaged persons (HDPs) from “participating effectively” in the market. Dominant firms are also not allowed to avoid or refuse selling goods or services to SMEs or firms owned or controlled by HDPs to circumvent the section. Significantly, and unlike the traditional price discrimination provision, Section 9(1)(a)(ii) does not require a complainant to prove any anti-competitive effects or consumer welfare effects.

Penalties

The Amendment Act has removed the “yellow-card” principle and administrative penalties will be imposed for any contravention. Previously, penalties for first-time offences were only applicable to cartel conduct, minimum resale price maintenance and certain abuse of dominance conduct (such as excessive pricing or predation).

Mergers

The role of public interest factors in the merger control assessment has become more prominent by firstly elevating the standard of public interest factors to equal footing with traditional competition law factors (i.e. SLC tests) and also broadening the public interest grounds which must be taken into consideration to specifically include transformation objectives.

  • Important cases

In December 2019, the South African Competition Appeal Court heard the appeal from the Tribunal in relation to the “Banking Forex” Matter.

Oxenham says that this case raises a number of jurisdictional issues in relation to the scope and powers of the South African Competition Authorities to impose penalties on foreign firms for engaging in cartel conduct outside of South Africa. Both personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction is being contested.

  • Market Inquiries

In 2019, the Commission fully utilized its powers in Section 43A-G and 23 in initiating and conducting market inquiries as well as its duty to remedy adverse effects on competition. Three market inquiries were conducted in 2019, namely:

  • The Health Market Inquiry;
  • The Grocery Retail Market Inquiry; and
  • The Data Services Market Inquiry

The implementation of the Commission’s recommendations of the abovementioned market inquiries will likely be a controversial topic, and much push-back is expected from parties implicated in the recommendations.

 

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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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