Business community embraces COMESA competition law: First-ever #CCCworkshop at full capacity

The first-ever COMESA-sponsored competition law workshop focussed solely on the business community, currently underway in Nairobi, Kenya, stretches the capacity of the Hilton conference room where it is being held.

The event’s tag line is “Benefits to Business.” Especially now, with the African continent sporting over 400 companies with over $500m in annual revenues, the topic of antitrust regulation in Africa is more pertinent than ever, according to the COMESA Competition Commission (CCC).

The head of the Zambian competition regulator (CCPC), Dr. Chilufya Sampa, introduced the first panel and guest of honour. He identified the threats of anticompetitive last behaviour as grounds for he need to understand and support the work of he CCC and its sister agencies in the member states.

With COMESA trade liberalisation, the markets at issue are much larger than kenya or other national markets. The effects of anticompetitive conduct are thus often magnified accordingly.

The one-stop shop nature of the CCC’s merger notification system simplifies and renders more cost-effective the transactional work of companies doing business in COMESA.

The Keynote speaker, Mr. Mohammed Nyaoga Muigai, highlighted the exciting future of the more and more integrated African markets, offering new challenges and opportunities. He challenged the audience to imagine a single market of over 750 million consumers. Companies will have to think creatively and “outside the box” in these enlarged common markets.

His perspective is twofold: for one, as a businessman and lawyer, but also as a regulator and board chairman and member of the Kenyan Central Bank. Effective competition policy (and access to the legal system) allows to prepare the ground for the successful carrying out of business in the common market. Yet, businesses must know what the regulatory regime actually is. Therefore, the duty of lawyers is to educate their clients about the strictures and requirements of all applicable competition law, across all COMESA member states.

After a group photo, the event continued with an informative presentation by Mr. Willard Mwemba on key facts that “companies should know” on merger control in the (soon enlarged to 21 member states, with the imminent addition of Tunisia and Somalia) COMESA region, starting with its historical roots in COMESA Treaty Article 55 and continuing through the current era since 2013 of the CCC’s regulatory oversight.

Willard Mwemba, Head of M&A at the CCC

He provided relevant merger statistics, jointly with Director of Trade affairs, Dr. Francis Mangeni, which were of great interest to the audience, followed by a discussion of substantive merger review analysis as it is undertaken by the Commission. The benefits of the “one-stop-shop” characteristic of CCC notification versus multiple individual filings were extolled and individual past M&A cases discussed.

AAT will live-update the blog as the event progresses.

Dr. Sampa, CCPC executive

Dr. Sampa, as head of the Zambian CCPC and a former CCC Board member, emphasized the importance for companies to have functioning and well-implemented antitrust compliance programmes in place.

A spirited discussion was had relating to the 30% market share threshold the Commission utilises to evaluate triggers for launching antitrust conduct investigations. Primerio’s Andreas Stargard argued for COMESA’s consideration of an increase in this trigger threshold to 40%, proposing that:

“Especially in an already concentrated market (where players possess majority shares anyway), a low initial share threshold is of little to no additional enforcement value. On the contrary, a low threshold may hamper vigorous competition by smaller to midsize competitors or newer entrants, who wish to grow their (previously innocuous) smaller share of the market but are simultaneously held back in their growth efforts by trying not to cross the 30% barrier so as not to attract the attention of the Commission.”

There was also an issue raised regarding private equity and non-profit / “impact investors” and the like having to bear the burden of notifications and ancillary fees in cases that are otherwise unobjectionable almost by definition (since the investors are not present on the market of the acquired entities in which they invest). Dr. Mangeni indicated that the CCC will investigate and consider whether a proposed change in the applicable Rules to account for this problem may be advisable in the future.

Mary Gurure, head of legal (CCC)

The CCC’s chief legal advisor, Ms. Mary Gurure, presented on conflict of laws issues within the COMESA regime, harmonisation of laws, and CCC engagements with individual member states on these issues.

Crucially, she also mentioned a novel initiative to replicate a COMESA-focused competition enforcer network, akin to the ECN and ICN groupings of international antitrust agencies.

Business panel #CCCworkshop 2018

The conference concluded with a business lawyer panel, in which outside counsel and in-house business representatives voiced their perspectives, largely focusing on the issue of merger notifications. These topics included the (1) burdens of having to submit certified copies of documents, (2) high filing fees (particularly in light of relatively low-value deals being made in the region), (3) comparatively low notification thresholds (e.g., the $10m 2-party turnover limit), (4) remaining, if minimal, confusion over multiple filing obligations, (5) questions surrounding the true nature of the “public interest” criterion in the CCC’s merger evaluation, which could benefit from further clarification via a Guideline or the like, and (6) the importance of predictability and consistency in rulings.

Panellists also commented on the positive, countervailing benefits of the one-stop-shop nature of the CCC, as well as highlighting the friendly nature of the COMESA staff, which permits consensus-building and diplomatic resolutions of potential conflicts.

Mr. Mwemba concluded the event by responding to each of the panel members’ points, noting that forum-shopping based on the costs of filing fees reflected a misguided approach, that the CCC may consider increasing filing thresholds, and that the CCC’s average time to reach merger decisions has been 72 (calendar) days.

Advertisements

Raising merger notification thresholds

Namibia fine-tunes its M&A review

By AAT guest author Anne Brigot-Laperrousaz

Under the Namibian Competition Act (the “Act”), which came into law in April 2003, the term “merger” covers all three common types of M&A activity, as well as joint ventures; above certain thresholds, a merger becomes compulsorily notifiable.  On December 21, 2015, the Namibian Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development, in accordance with the powers conferred upon it under s43(1) and (2) of the Act, published a notice containing remarkable changes to the thresholds triggering the application of the merger regulations under the Act and thereby a compulsory notification.

Former thresholds

The previously applicable government notice on the determination of those thresholds, dated December 24, 2012, had established the following triggering values:

  • The combined assets, or combined annual turnover in, into or from Namibia of the acquiring and target undertakings exceed N$20 million (US$1.578 million, based on the Bank of Namibia 2015 average exchange rate)

or

  • The annual turnover of one of the undertaking plus the assets of the other undertaking exceed N$20 million

or

  • The asset value or the annual turnover in, into or from Namibia of the target undertaking exceeds N$10 million (US$ 789,000)

Revised thresholds

John Oxenham, an Africa practitioner with advisory firm Pr1merio, notes that  “[t]he December 2015 Government notice raised those thresholds by 50%, i.e. N$30 million and N$15 million respectively (US$ 2.367 and 1.1835 million). Furthermore, the revised notice sets out a two-tier calculation of the triggering thresholds, with two cumulative values to be considered,” as follows:

  • First, the combined assets, on the one hand, or annual turnover, on the other hand of the involved entities;
  • or, the cumulated value of the assets of one entity, and of the annual turnover of the other.
  • Yet even if one of those values exceeds N$30 million, the operation need not be notified if either the asset value of the annual turnover of the transferred undertaking is equal to or valued below N$15 million.

In other words, M&A targeting relatively small firms will not need to be notified, no matter how large the acquiring entity may be.

Yet the new notice maintains the possibility for the enforcement agency, the Namibian Competition Commission (the “Commission”), which came into operation in December 2008, to demand notification of a merger falling below those thresholds, if it considers it necessary to deal with the merger in terms of the Act.

namibiaAlthough the rationale of this provision is relatively clear, its phrasing raises questions as to the way it should be implemented. It is reasonable to believe that this regulation simply aims at allowing the Commission to investigate in all cases it deems useful. Indeed, the purpose of the thresholds is to sort out the potentially hazardous operations, as a form of “pre-selection” so as to avoid obstructing the Commission. But those thresholds should not bear the adverse consequence of preventing the Commission to exercise its control when it has reasonable grounds to consider that a “smaller” operation may cause harm to competition.

The notice lacks explicitly stated and pre-determined factors that could lead the Commission to such a finding, a loophole that arguably leaves way for arbitrary decisions. This goes against international best practices, as reaffirmed once again in a 2005 OECD report, considering that the criteria to determine whether a merger must be notified should be clear and objective.

Furthermore, it is unclear how the Commission could determine that a “small” merger needs to be notified, prior to any investigation. If this regulation simply requires the firms to provide the Commission with the information that would be asked in case of a mandatory notification, it is regrettable to make this unnecessary detour instead of recognising the Commission’s powers to request relevant documents and information as part of its general investigatory function.

As for the modification of the thresholds themselves, recent commentaries have praised the initiative, describing it as a “positive development”.

The explanatory note accompanying the Government notice referred, in particular, to the Recommended Practices of the International Competition Network (the “ICN”), together with comparative studies and analysis of the past efficiency of the thresholds’ level, as the basis for this reform.

Indeed, one of the first recommendations of the ICN is that “merger notification thresholds should incorporate appropriate standards of materiality as to the level of ‘local nexus’ required for merger notification”. The first comment of the ICN working group on this recommendation states that “each jurisdiction should seek to screen out transactions that are unlikely to result in appreciable competitive effects within its territory”. In particular, the material sales or assets level within the territory shall be important enough to justify the additional transaction costs entailed by the obligation to notify the operation.

In the case of Namibia in particular, a UNCTAD peer review conducted in 2014, while acknowledging the “fairly good competition law as enshrined in the Competition Act”, recommended a revision of the Namibian merger control. In particular, the UNCTAD report advocated for a review upwards of merger notification thresholds. In that regards, the Commission’s initiative is much welcome. Indeed, the UNCTAD report praised the Act for taking into account special requirements of the country’s economy, characterised by small undertakings. Arguably, the revised thresholds go a step further in this positive direction.

Conclusion

The public statistics on the Commission’s achievements show that since its setting up in 2009, the Commission’s M&A division has handled over 200 mergers. In November 2015, the Commission announced that it received a total of 60 merger notifications, of which 48 were approved during the current financial year of 2015/2016. The announced total value or purchase consideration for these merger notifications was about N$23,2 billion, and N$19,2 billion for the 48 approved mergers. Yet since “about 99%” of the total purchase consideration paid during the first quarter was one transaction, the relevance of the revised thresholds appears clearly.

First set of Merger Assessment Guidelines made available by CFTC

Malawi Releases 2015 ‘Merger Assessment Guidelines’

By Michael J. Currie

A number of African jurisdictions have recently published guidelines relating to merger control (which we have reported here on Africanantitrust). During 2015, Malawi’s Competition and Fair Trading Commission (“CFTC”whose web site appears to be down at the time of publication (http://www.cftc.mw), followed suit and published Merger Assessment Guidelines in 2015 (“Guidelines”) in order to provide some guidance as to how the CFTC will evaluate mergers in terms of the Competition and Fair Trading Act (“Act”).

malawi

Most significantly, the Guidelines have not catered for mandatorily notifiable merger thresholds which is unfortunate as most competition agencies as well as advocacy groups have recognised that financial thresholds is an important requirement to ensure that merger control regimes are not overly burdensome on merging parties.

Furthermore, the COMESA Competition Commission, to which Malawi is a member, published merger notification thresholds in 2015 in line with international best practice. It would be encouraged that the CFTC considers likewise publishing thresholds.

Other than the absence of any thresholds, the Guidelines contain substantively similar content to most merger control guidelines insofar as they set out the broad and general approach that the CFTC will take when evaluating a merger. We have, however, identified the following interesting aspects which emerge from the Guidelines which our readers may want to take note of:

  • The CFTC is entitled to issue a “letter of comfort” to merging parties. A letter of comfort is not formal approval, but allows the merging parties to engage conduct their activities as if approval has been obtained. Therefore, once a letter of comfort has been obtained, the parties may implement the merger. In terms of the Guidelines, a letter of comfort will only be issued once the CTFC is satisfied that any should their investigation reveal any potential competition law concerns, that those concerns will be able to be sufficiently addressed by merger related conditions. It is not clear whether a letter of comfort will be issued before the merger has been made public and therefore it is also unclear what the role of an intervening third party will be once a letter of comfort has been issued.
  • The merger filing fee is 0.05% of the combined turnover or assets of the enterprises’ turnover. The Guidelines do not specify that the turnover must be derived from, in, or into Malawi, although it is likely that this is indeed what was intended.
  • The Act and Guidelines make provision for what is becoming a common feature of developing countries competition laws, namely the introduction of so-called “public interest” provisions in merger control. The Guidelines, however, indicate that the CFTC does not consider these public interest provisions in quite as robust manner as the authorities do other countries including, inter alia, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Swaziland. In terms of the Guidelines, any public interest advantages or disadvantages is just one of the factors that the CFTC will consider, together with the traditional merger control factors. It is thus unlikely that a pro-competitive merger would be blocked purely on public interest grounds although this is notionally possible.
  • The Guidelines set out the following factors, combined with figures that are likely to be utilised when evaluating market concentration, which if exceeded, may increase the likelihood of the merger leading to a substantial lessening of competition:
  1. Market Shares: 40% for horizontal mergers and 30% for non-horizontal mergers;
  2. Number of firms in the market;
  3. Concentration Ratios: CR3- 65%; or
  4. The Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (“HHI”): HHI between 1000-2000 with delta 259; or HHI above 200 with delta 150. For non-horizontal mergers a merger is unlikely to raise competition concerns if the HHI is below 2000 post-merger.

MergerMania: Are CCC notifications picking up pace unnoticed?

COMESA Competition Commission logo

COMESA Merger Mania

To answer our rhetorical question in the title above: We don’t believe so.  For the merger junkies among our readership, here is AAT’s latest instalment of “COMESA MergerMania” — AfricanAntitrust’s occasional look at merger matters reviewed by the young multi-jurisdictional competition enforcers in south/eastern Africa.  (To see our last post on COMESA merger statistics, click here).

COMESA publishes new Merger Filings, still fails to identify dates thereof

As nobody else seems to be doing this, let us compile the latest news in merger notifications to the COMESA Competition Commission.  Prior to doing so, however, we observe one item of utility and basic house-keeping etiquette, which we hope will be heeded in future official releases by the agency: Please note the dates of (and on the) documents being issued.  Using the date as a ‘case ID’ is insufficient in our view — the CCC’s current PDF pronouncements invariably remain un-dated, a practice which AAT deplores and which simply does not conform to international business (or government) standards.  So: please date your press releases, opinions, decisions, and notifications on the documents themselves.

We observe that the matters below have not yet been assigned final “case numbers” (at least not publicly) in the style typical of the CCC decisions in the past, namely sequential numbers per year, as they are currently under investigation and have not yet been decided.

We also note that one notification in particular appears to have been retroactively made in 2014, even though it is identified as merger no. 3 of 2015 (Gateway), a peculiarity we cannot currently explain.  Likewise, AAT wonders what the “44” stands for in its case ID (“12/44/2014”), we surmise it’s a typo and should be “14” instead.

Internal Case ID Statement of Merger
Holtzbrinck PG/ Springer Science MER/04/06/2015 SOM/6/2015
Eaton Towers/ Kenya, Malawi, Uganda Towers MER/04/05/2015 SOM/5/2015
Coca-Cola BAL/ Coca-Cola SABCO MER/04/07/2015 SOM/4/2015
Gateway/Pan Africa MER/12/44/2014 SOM/3/2015
Old Mutual/UAP MER/03/04/2015 SOM/2/2015
Zamanita /Cargill MER/03/03/2015 SOM/1//2015

Which brings us to the bi-monthly…

AAT COMESA Merger Statistics Roundup

COMESA Merger Statistics as of July 2015

COMESA Merger Statistics as of July 2015 (source: AAT)

Finally: One step forward for COMESA merger enforcement? New rules, new commissioners

COMESA old flag color

Clarification or not?

Amended Rules for Merger Notification

Repealing the oft-criticised original 2012 Rules on the Determination of Merger Notification Threshold, the COMESA Board of Commissioners approved on March 26, 2015 the new set of Amended Merger Rules. These are ostensibly meant to permit parties and their legal counsel a more meaningful determination of filing fees, notification thresholds, and calculation of parties’ revenue (and asset) valuation.  Whilst many legal news outlets have reported (uncritically, as we fear) a high-level summary of these Rules, AAT undertook a critical review of them, and finds that many of the previously-identified flaws persist.

Filing Fee

The question of what parties had to pay in administrative fees to be permitted to file a merger notification with the Competition Commission was always in question (see here for AAT summaries of the issue).  We have reported on examples of fees that came dangerously close to the original $500,000 maximum limit.  Since then, the agency’s “Explanatory Note” (which still has a visible link on the Commission’s web site, but which happens to be an essentially “dead” web page, other than its amusing headline: “What is merger?“) attempted to clarify, and indeed informally change, the filing fee from a 0.5% figure to 0.01% of the parties’ annual COMESA-area turnover.

COMESA explanatory note

Where the filing fee stands now is, honestly, not clear to AAT.  While other sources have reiterated the revised fee of 0.1% with a maximum of $200,000, we fail to see any information whatsoever about the filing fee in the (partial set, containing only ANNEX 2 of) the Amended Rules made available by COMESA on its site, despite their title containing the term “fees”.  We have been able to determine, through some internet sleuthing on the COMESA site, that a document marked clearly as “DRAFT” does contain references to 0.1% and $200k maximum fees.

We note that we have now seen three different turnover percentage-based filing fees from COMESA: 0.01%, 0.1%, and 0.5%, as well as several different maxima.  Which shall govern in the end remains to be seen.  We do not envy those parties that have filed with COMESA and have paid the half-million dollar fee within the past 2 years, as we doubt they are entitled to restitution of their evident overpayment.

AAT predicts that this is where things will land, at 0.1% and $200,000, once the good folks at COMESA get around to actually editing the document and finalising their own legislation, so that practitioners and parties alike may have an original, statutory source document on which to rely

Our previous AAT advice has been very clear to companies envisaging a filing with COMESA: wait until the Commission and the Board clarify the regime in its entirety.  Do not file for fear of enforcement, because there is little if any enforcement yet, and the utter lack of clarity – apparently even within the agency itself – on the actual thresholds and other rules provides ample grounds for a legal challenge to the “constitutionality,” if you will, of the entire COMESA merger regime

Combined $50 million revenue threshold

What the 5-page document does show, however, is the new notification threshold embodied in Rule 4, which defines the threshold as follows:

Either (or both) of the acquiring and/or target firms must ‘operate’ [defined elsewhere] in at least two COMESA member states and have (1) combined annual turnover or assets of $50 million or more in the COMESA common market, AND (2) in line with the EU’s “two-thirds” merger rule, each of at least 2 parties to the merger must have at least $10 million revenue or assets within the COMESA zone, unless each of the merging parties achieves 2/3 or more of its aggregate revenue within one and the same member state.

The likewise-revised Form 12, the mandatory filing form, which is available in a scanned format (we hope this will be remedied and provided in more legible and native-electronic format soon by the secretariat) here, reflects the rules changes.  It must be submitted at a minimum within “30 days of the merging parties’ decisions [sic] to merge.”  The Competition Commission mus t make a decision within 120 days of receipt of (a complete) notification.

Interestingly, if the same two firms enter into multiple transactions within a 2-year period are to be treated “as one and the same merger arising on the date of the last transaction.” (See Rule 5, in a likely-misidentified subsection that is confusingly entitled 1.2.). Mimicking the EU Merger Regulation and Consolidated Jurisdictional Notice, the revised COMESA rules likewise contain special provisions for determining the revenues or assets of financial institutions (and their individual member-state branches’ income) as well as insurance companies.

Parents, sisters, subs: included.

Parent, sister and subsidiary entities are included in the revenue determination of the purchaser, to no surprise.  However, unlike what has been reported in the media, again we fail to see the (entirely logical) exclusion of the target parent’s turnover in calculating total revenues, other than in section 3.16 of the August 2014 Guidelines (which provides: “the annual turnover and value of assets of a target undertaking will not, for the purposes of these Guidelines, include the annual turnover or value of assets of its parents and their subsidiaries under Section 3.15)(d)where, after the merger is implemented, such parents are not parents of (i) the target undertaking if it remains after the merger, or (ii) the merged undertaking in the case of an amalgamation or combination“).

We observe the obvious: the Guidelines have no binding legal effect.

The Amended Rules do however provide that state-owned enterprises do not have to include their “parental” governmental revenues; for instance, if a state-owned airline like Air Tanzania were to acquire its counterpart, such as Air Mauritius, in a hypothetical COMESA-reportable transaction, the parties would not be required to report the full tax income or other revenues of the Tanzanian and Mauritian governments, respectively, but only those of the actual state-owned entity and its subsidiaries.

COMESA's 18th Summit in Ethiopia

18th COMESA Summit in Ethiopia

Four New Commissioners

As AAT reported previously, the Addis Ababa COMESA summit also saw the election and confirmation of four new Competition Commissioners.  We now have the full listing of the members, including the 4 new* ones (listed below in italics), whose term is for three years:

New 2015 Commissioners Origin
Ali Mohammed Afkada Djibouti
Amira Abdel Ghaffar* Egypt
Merkebu Zeleke Sime* Ethiopia
Francis Kariuki Kenya
Matthews Chikankheni Malawi
Georges Emmanuel Jude Tirant* Seychelles
Thabisile Langa Swaziland
Patrick Okilangole* Uganda
Chilufya Sampa Zambia

UNCTAD report evaluates antitrust efforts in Namibia

namibia

 

 

 

Extensive UNCTAD report highlights state of Namibian competition enforcement, comes at right time when Namibia ponders inclusion of “unfairness” standard in merger control

A.S.

Following the release of the final UNCTAD report (entitled “Voluntary Peer Review of Competition Law and Policy: Namibia“), the report’s sponsors organised a gathering of interested parties in mid-February in Windhoek, the Namibian capital, for a “dissemination event” of the report.

The event included a session on “various elements of knowledge management systems,” for which the the South African Competition Commission was selected to serve as an exemplary agency.  The Namibia Competition Commission presented a plan for implementing the Report’s recommendations.  This plan will form part of the agency’s overall strategic planning framework “Smart enforcement, smart advocacy and smart research” that is to be launched by June 2015.

In attendace was, among others, the country’s Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Tjekero Tweya.  Participants were invited to attend two round tables discussions on the intersection and complementarities of competition policy and consumer protection; and strengthening cooperation between different government bodies to improve competition enforcement in Namibia.

Can Report avert devolution of merger-control regime into extrajudicial “fairness” criteria?
Substantively, AAT welcomes further and deeper discussion of true antitrust/competition law issues in Namibia wholeheartedly.  We reported last year that a crucial revision of the Namibian competition law includes consumer-protection provisions that would potentially bar M&A deals not only on pure antitrust grounds but also on a more broadly defined “unfairness” basis.
The cited Report contains two relevant statistics, showing the relatively young enforcement agency’s workload in absolute terms as well as in relative (merger vs. other enforcement work) numbers:

Namibia stats

Namibia stats comparison

 

Meet the Enforcers: COMESA’s Rajeev Hasnah, 1st in exclusive AAT interview series

meet the enforcers

New AAT interview series highlights individual African competition enforcers

In the first instalment of our new Meet the Enforcers series, we speak with Rajeev Hasnah, CFA, who is a sitting Commissioner of the COMESA Competition Commission.  In our exclusive interview, we discuss the CCC’s merger review practice, its revised Guidelines, young history and achievements, and seek practitioner guidance.


Rajeev Hasnah, CFA
You are an economist by training and currently a sitting COMESA Competition Commissioner.  As the young agency is about to celebrate its 2nd anniversary, what do you consider to be the CCC’s biggest achievement to date?
According to me, it is the fact that the CCC is effectively enforcing the COMESA Competition Regulations since it started operating in January 2013.  It is indeed a commendable achievement given that the current Board of Commissioners sworn-in in October 2011.  In 2012, the CCC worked on the drafting of the guidelines, in consultation with various stakeholders, and under the advice of other competition experts.
The institution also established a good working relationship with national authorities across COMESA and beyond, and proved its credibility and effectiveness as a regional competition authority within the business and legal communities globally.  The rather high number of merger notifications with a COMESA dimension already adjudicated to-date (around 50) is testimony to the success of the CCC being an effective competition law enforcer in its still early days.
Comparing the CCC merger review in practice with that of other competition enforcement agencies worldwide, where do you see the key differences?
Nowadays it is getting harder to talk about differences in any field of economic activity in this increasingly globalised world.  In my view, the key principles and the application of the Competition Law in the COMESA region do not differ significantly either from that of the national authorities or other major jurisdictions across the globe.  The assessment of “substantial lessening of competition” as the underlying fundamental test in merger reviews is at the core of the evaluation conducted by the CCC as well.
Does the multi-national nature of the CCC (akin to the European Commission) make the substantive work more difficult?
It is definitely not an easy feat to enforce the COMESA Competition Regulations across 19 different countries, each with its own economic, legal and cultural environments.  Yet, under the leadership of the current Chairman, Alex Kububa and Director/CEO of the CCC, George Lipimile, a good working relationship and collaboration has been established with the different national authorities across the COMESA region, which facilitates an effective enforcement of the Competition Regulations.   This also ensures that the CCC has a good perspective of the individual local realities, which is no doubt a key element to assess the impact on competition at the regional level.
What prompted the re-drafting of the CCC Merger Guidelines, and why was the indirect path of an administrative guidelines interpretation of the verb “to operate” chosen to elevate the review thresholds, as opposed to increasing the thresholds in the underlying Rules themselves?
It is not uncommon that an authority reviews its guidelines as it gains experience in enforcing the law.  Any changes or further clarifications are geared toward ensuring that the business and legal communities as well as competition economics experts have a good understanding of how the Regulations are enforced by the CCC.  This indeed shows that the CCC stands ready to ensure an improved clarity of its enforcement of the Competition Regulations among its key stakeholders.
The relevant paragraphs defining the verb “to operate” in the Merger Guidelines, should not be construed as a review of the merger notification thresholds per se.  The latter has its own procedures regarding any likely review.  The definition in the Merger Guidelines is rather to ascertain whether the said undertaking is construed to be effectively operating in a Member State or not.
Do you have advice for African practitioners counselling their clients on whether or not to notify a merger to the CCC?
Taking into consideration the rise in the enactment and enforcement of a competition policy regime across various jurisdictions and at the level of regional trading blocs as well, one can safely say that a competition authority is here to stay and to enforce the law as prescribed.
One of the key considerations in doing business is a proper assessment of the risks the undertaking faces or could potentially face and the implementation of a suitable actionplan to deal with these risks.  I believe that non-notification of a notifiable COMESA dimension merger to the CCC should not be construed as carrying a low probability of being detected by the CCC and certainly not a low impact one for the undertaking.
What is your view about the elevation of non-competition assessments above those of pure competition tests in merger review?  Is it good for the adjudication of competition matters generally?
Some jurisdictions consider public interests as important, while some don’t.  This is normally provided for or not in the respective laws, and whichever is the case, as adjudicators, we need to follow what is prescribed in the Regulations.
It is also important to note that in practice, the enforcement of competition law can be defined as being the conduct of economic analysis within a legal framework.  Both the economic analysis and legal framework evolve accordingly in line with the development of the jurisdiction’s economy.  We can take the examples of more mature competition policy regimes which started with the consideration of non-competition issues in merger review, to then afterwards moving to assessing only competition matters.  As such, each jurisdiction has its own specificities that it needs to take into consideration, though these are bound to evolve with time.
By way of background, how did you get into antitrust/competition law & economics?
I am an economist and a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) by training, and prior to joining the antitrust world I was an investment professional.  Four years ago I had the choice between acquiring experience in private equity or joining the nascent competition law enforcement team of the Competition Commission of Mauritius as its Chief Economist/Deputy Executive Director, working with the then Executive Director, John Davies.  I chose the latter for its excellent combination of applied microeconomics and law.
What was the path that took you to working for competition enforcement agencies?
I started as a macroeconomist working in London for an economic consultancy firm in the city, where I was advising traders and asset managers.  I then moved on to financial investing in an investment management firm and to corporate finance in one of the largest conglomerates in Mauritius.  So I came to the antitrust world as a business/investment practitioner with a strong background and experience in applied economic and financial analysis.
Having seen the world from the private sector side, I acquired an edge in the application of competition economics in my previous role as a Chief Economist/Deputy Executive Director and as a current Commissioner at the COMESA Competition Commission.
What skills would you encourage regional African practitioners focus on for purposes of developing antitrust advocacy in the COMESA region?
Having previously led the Competition Culture project for the International Competition Network (ICN) Advocacy Working Group (AWG), I am now one of the strong proponents of the importance of advocacy to develop and maintain a strong competition culture within society.
Ensuring that advocacy activities are properly designed and tailored to meet the requirements of the target group is crucial.  Equally important is to ability to communicate in a very simple and easy to understand language, adapted to meeting the target audience’s expectations.
Thank you, Mr. Hasnah.

Confusion reigns in COMESA: filing fees misstated, “operation” vs. “threshold”, and new web site

COMESA Competition Commission logo

COMESA Competition Commission makes changes, but observers deplore lack of clarity and persisting mistakes

Visiting the CCC web site will yield a surprise to COMESA followers, as the Commission’s online presence has an updated look.  (Importantly, we express hope that it’s not all cosmetic but also substantive, and that the CCC’s webmaster has improved online security, in light of the numerous hacking attacks to which the agency was subjected in 2014.)

What’s more, the new web site has some new merger-related information, most notably of course the new finalized Merger Assessment Guidelines and an “Explanatory Note” on mergers.

Guidelines subvert Rules threshold under guise of companies’ “operation” within region

The former attempt to infuse some sense into the previous zero-dollar notification threshold regime (by re-defining in the Guidelines what it means to “operate” in COMESA countries as having turnover of >$5 million per annum).  They do so without actually amending or otherwise revoking the underlying Rules, which still do specify to this day that the turnover threshold for notification is “$0” COMESA dollars (which are the fictitious FX equivalent currency of U.S. dollars, so there is effectively no currency conversion required from USD figures).  CNBC/Africa has an 8-minute interview on the topic with a World Bank Group staffer who was part of the working group making the revisions here.

We at AAT respectfully question both the validity and the sensibility of keeping the flawed legislation of the Rules in place, while making agency ex parte interpretive changes via CCC “Guidelines” that notably do not have the force of law in COMESA countries.

“Explanatory Note” and the question of filing fees: 0.01% or 0.5%? Errors continue to persist.

The latter document (reproduced below in full) tries to do the same in a more simplistic fashion — asking, curiously, “What is merger?” [sic!]  However, the Explanatory Note appears fundamentally flawed as it incorrectly includes a reference to the filing fee as being set at 0.01% of the parties’ combined annual revenues.

AAT analysed this statement and believes that the CCC improperly refers to the old Rules (which provided for a 0.01% fee in Rule 55) until they were revised and then subsequently interpreted by CCC guidance in February of 2013: since then, filing a CCC notification incurs a fee of 0.5% of turnover, as we extensively discussed here(Update: The CCC has apparently read our post and, as of 5 Nov. 2014, changed this incorrect statement, deleting all references to filing fees in their entirety.)

Continuing lack of clarity emanates from COMESA’s official statements and publications

AAT deplores the ongoing confusion that reigns with respect to the CCC’s pronouncements on crucially important issues such as thresholds, filing fees, and the like.  It takes more than a new web site design to instill parties’ and attorneys’ trust in the young antitrust regime’s competency, and with it, new filings (which have notably stalled at zero for the past half year).

Mergers and Acquisistions

What is Merger?

Most mergers pose little or no serious threat to competition, and may actually be pro-competitive.  Such benevolent mergers have a number of economic advantages such as resultant economies of scale, reduction in the cost of production and sale, and gains of horizontal integration.  There could also be more convenient and reliable supply of input materials and reduction of overheads.  These advantages could, and should, lead to lower prices to the consumer.

Other mergers, however, may harm competition by increasing the probability of exercise of market power and abuse of dominance.  Mergers can also sometimes produce market structures that are anti-competitive in the sense of making it easier for a group of firms to cartelise a market, or enabling the merged entity to act more like a monopolist.

An increasing number of business firms in the COMESA region are merging, or entering into other forms of strategic alliances, in order to take advantage of the many economic benefits that arise from such transactions.  Undertakings in the COMESA region are relatively small compared with those in other parts of the world.  Mergers in the region, however, would create ‘regional champions’ capable of competing with other international companies on an equal footing.

Companies however need to notify the Commission their proposed mergers to enable the mergers to be thoroughly examined for any anti-competitive features that might reduce or eliminate the transaction’s economic benefits.  Not all mergers are notified to the Commission.  Only those large mergers that exceed a certain prescribed threshold have to be notified.  The fee for notifying mergers is not punitive, but is only meant to defray the costs to the Commission for examining the transactions.  The COMESA Competition Rules provide for a relatively small merger notification fee calculated at 0.01% of the combined annual turnover or combined value of assets in the COMESA region of the merging parties.  (NOTE by editor: The CCC has, as of 5 Nov. 2014, changed this incorrect statement and deleted all references to filing fees entirely.) Failure to notify mergers can however be very costly to the merging parties.  The Regulations provide for a high penalty of up to 1% of the merging parties’ annual turnover in the COMESA region for not notifying eligible mergers

Merger in COMESA Competition Regulations

The word merger in this COMESA Competition Regulation is construed in the context of its definition under Article 23(1) of the Regulations.

Control is used in the context of controlling interest as defined under Article 23(2) of the Regulations. Without prejudice to Article 23(2), control shall be constituted by rights, contracts or any other means which, either separately or in combination with and having regard to the considerations of fact or law involved, confer the possibility of exercising decisive influence on an undertaking. The COMESA Competition Commission (‘the Commission’) shall deem a person or undertaking to exercise control within the meaning of Article 23(2) of the Regulations if the person or undertaking;

  • Beneficially owns more than one half of the issued share capital of the undertaking;
  • Is entitled to cast a majority of the votes that may be cast at a general meeting of the undertaking, or has the ability to control the voting of a majority of those votes that may be cast at a general meeting of the undertaking, or has the ability to control the voting of a majority of those votes, either directly or through a controlled entity of the undertaking;
  • Is able to appoint, or to veto the appointment, of a majority of the directors of the undertakings;
  • Is a holding company, and the undertaking is a subsidiary of that holding company;
  • In the case of the undertaking being a trust, has the ability to control the majority of the votes of the trustees or to appoint or change the majority of the beneficiaries of the trust;
  • In the case of an undertaking being a close corporation, owns the majority of the members’ interest or controls directly, or has the right to control, the majority of the members’ votes in the close corporation; or
  • Has the ability to materially influence the policy of the undertaking in a manner comparable to a person who, in ordinary commercial practice, can exercise an element of control referred to in paragraphs (a) to (f).

The Commission shall assess material influence on a case by case basis, having regard to the overall relationship between the acquiring firm and the target firm in light of the commercial context.

In its assessment of material influence, the Commission shall focus on the acquiring undertaking(s). Minority and other interests shall be examined by the Commission to the extent that they are able to influence the policy of the undertaking(s) concerned.

The Commission shall consider an acquiring firm’s ability to influence policy relevant to the behaviour of the target firm in the market place. This includes the management of the business, in particular in relation to its competitive conduct, and thus includes the strategic direction of a firm and its ability to define and achieve its commercial objectives.

The Commission shall consider an acquiring firm’s ability to block special resolutions by virtue of share ownership or other factors, including:

  • The distribution and holders of the remaining shares, in particular whether the acquiring entity’s shareholding makes it the largest shareholder;
  • Patterns of attendance and voting at recent shareholders’ meetings based on recent shareholder returns, and, in particular, whether voter attendance is such that in practice a minority holder is able to block a special resolution;
  • Any special voting or veto rights attached to the shareholding under consideration; and
  • Any other special provisions in the constitution of the target firm which confer the ability to exercise influence.

Where an acquiring firm is not able to block special resolutions of the target firm, the Commission shall have regard to the status and expertise of the acquiring firm, and its corresponding influence with other shareholders, and shall consider whether, given the identity and corporate policy of the target company, the acquiring firm may be able to exert material influence on policy formulation at an earlier stage.

The Commission shall review the proportion of Board of Directors appointed by the acquiring firm and the corporate/industry expertise of members of the Board appointed by the acquiring firm. The Commission may also assess the identities, relevant expertise and incentives of other Board Members.

Interpretation of Article 23(3) of the COMESA Competition Regulations
Article 23(3) of the COMESA Competition Regulations (‘the Regulations’) provides that:

                        “This Article shall apply where:

  • both the acquiring firm and target firm or either the acquiring firm or target firm operate in two or more Member States; and

  • the threshold of combined annual turnover or assets provided for in paragraph 4 is exceeded”.

The interpretation shall focus on Article 23(3)(a) since Article 23(3)(b) is superfluous due to the non-existent of thresholds currently. Article 23(3)(a) is divided into two parts as follows:

  • both the acquiring firm and the target firm operate in two or more Member States;
  • either the acquiring firm or target firm operate in two or more Member States.

The meaning of the first part above is that for a merger to fall within the dominion of Part IV of the Regulations is that both the acquiring firm and the target firm should operate in two or more Member States. For example if Company A is the acquiring firm and it operates in Zambia and Malawi and Company B is the target company and it equally operates in Zambia and Malawi, then the requirements of the first limb are satisfied and the merger falls within the ambit of Part IV of the Regulations.

Another scenario where the first part is satisfied is where Company A the acquiring firm operates in Zambia and Malawi and Company B the target firm operates in Zambia and Ethiopia. In this example, both Company A and Company B operate in two or more Member States.

The third scenario where the first part is satisfied is where Company A the acquiring firm operates in Zambia and Malawi and Company B the target firm operates in Djibouti and Madagascar. In this example, both Company A and Company B operate in two or more Member States.

As regards the second part, a merger falls within the province of Part IV of the Regulations where for example Company A the acquiring firm operates in Kenya and Seychelles and acquires Company B the target which has no operations in the COMESA Member States.

Another scenario where the second part is satisfied is where Company A the acquiring firm has no operations in any of the COMESA Member States but acquires Company B the target which operates in Rwanda and Burundi.

The foregoing are pursuant to the second limb which uses the words “either or” and therefore presupposes that both the acquiring firm and the target firm do not have to operate in two or more Member States as is the case for the first limb but that where either the target or acquiring is operates in two or more Member States, the merger is captured under Part IV of the Regulations.

It is important to note that where the acquiring firm operates in only one Member State and the target firm operates in another Member State and only that Member State, then such a merger does not satisfy the jurisdictional requirements of Part IV of the Regulations. This is however on the premise that such firms do not control any other firm whether directly or indirectly in a third Member State. Such firms should also not be controlled whether directly or indirectly by any other firm in a third Member State. For example, where Company A the acquiring firm operates in Swaziland only and Company B the target operates in Rwanda only, such a merger does not meet the jurisdictional requirements of Part IV of the Regulations. The situation may be different where Company A has a stake in Company C which operates in Mauritius or Company B has a stake in Company D which operates in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The word operate is taken to mean that a firm(s) in issue derives turnover in two or more Member States. Therefore does not need to be directly domiciled in a Member State but it can have operations through exports, imports, subsidiaries etc. in a Member State.

New Merger Guidelines fail to revise Rules flaw, but adjust notification threshold upwards

COMESA Competition Commission logo

COMESA publishes new Merger Assessment Guidelines, uses back-door defintion to adjust threshold to >$5 million

On Friday, the COMESA Competition Commission published its 2014 Merger Assessment Guidelines, available here in PDF.  They finally replace the prior Draft Guidelines, which the agency’s Willard Mwemba had predicted would be finalised no later than June 2014.  The new final version fails to put a formal end to the technical zero-dollar notification threshold, but — through a back-door definition of what it means to “operate” in the COMESA region — does achieve the practical effect of terminating what AAT has dubbed the “zero-threshold contagion” – i.e., any transaction between parties with any turnover/revenue whatsoever within the common market of COMESA used to be notifiable.

We invite our readers to take a look at the entire document.  Rather than having the COMESA Board meet and re-draft the actual Rule, the CCC appears to have taken the short-cut solution of ex parte “Commission consider[ation]” of what it means for a company to “operate” in the organisation’s jurisdiction.  Section 3.9 re-defines “operat[ion]” of a COMESA company as follows:

3.9 The Commission considers that an undertaking only “operates” in a Member State for purposes of Article 23(3)(a) of the Regulations if its operations in that Member State are substantial enough that a merger involving it can contribute to an appreciable effect on trade between Member States and restriction on competition in the Common Market. For these purposes, the Commission considers that an undertaking “operates” in a Member State if its annual turnover or value of assets in that Member State exceeds US $5 million.

However, it notably maintains all references to the “Rules on Notification Threshold,” which continue to specify a “U.S. $ zero” threshold:

3.4 The Commission’s Board prescribed such threshold with Council approval in the Rules on Notification Threshold, the scope of which is also limited to mergers having a “regional dimension”(Rule 3). According to the Rules on Notification Threshold currently in force, the threshold of combined annual turnover or assets for the purposes of Article 23(4) is exceeded if:
(a) the combined worldwide aggregate annual turnover or the combined worldwide aggregate value of assets, whichever is higher, of all undertakings to the merger in the Common Market equals or exceeds US $ zero; and
(b) the aggregate annual turnover or the aggregate value of assets, whichever is higher, of each or at least two undertakings to the merger in the Common Market equals or exceeds US $ zero.

It is not as though the CCC’s staff were unaware of the critiques levied against their zero-threshold regime.  Mr. Mwemba stated back in February 2014 that the agency had been setting “the wheels in motion for the threshold to be raised.”  The Commission has been eportedly working with the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation to determine what the proper notification thresholds should be.  AAT also understands that other antitrust advisors — including former FTC Commissioner, Chairman, law professor and competition-law conference mainstay Bill Kovacic — were helping the young enforcement agency to design a more workable and internationally respected merger-review regime.

Namibian merger control: 1st deal of 2014 gets conditions

namibia

Namibian Competition Commission Imposes Conditions on Mining Deal

The Namibian Competition Commission has given its first conditional approval of the year in a gold-mine transaction, imposing employment conditions that require the purchaser not to lay off any employees for a minimum of two years from the date of sale.

Unemployment concerns drive antitrust ruling

The Commission stated, per reporting on AllAfrica.com, that there were no reasons to block the deal on a lessening-of-competition grounds under section 47 of the Competition Act, but that it was “concerned about the effect of the sale on employment, hence the imposition of the above condition.”

AAT reported last year on the revision of the Namibian competition law to include consumer-protection provisions, which would allegedly bar M&A deals not only on pure antitrust grounds but also on a more broadly defined “unfairness” basis.

In the current deal, buyer Guinea Fowl Investments Twenty Six will acquire the Navachab gold mine from AngloGold Ashanti Namibia, which since last year has had gold-mining competition from one other player (B2Gold) in the domestic market.

First 2014 deal with conditions

We note that no other cleared transaction has had conditions imposed since the beginning of the calendar year, as shown by the agency’s May M&A update 2014:

Namibian NaCC approved deals as of May 2014

Namibian NaCC approved deals as of May 2014