AAT, mergers, public-interest, Uncategorized

PepsiCo/Pioneer merger: Minister Patel approves the Deal

In one of the few megamergers of the 2019/2020 season, the South African Competition Tribunal approved, subject to a wide range of public interest related conditions, PepsiCo’s acquisition of South Africa’s largest FMCG producers, Pioneer Foods.

In predictable fashion, this was not the type of transaction which would escape the attention of Minister Patel (who oversees the portfolio of the competition agencies). Despite not being a transaction which raises any competition concerns (i.e. there being no substantive overlap in product portfolios) and no material public interest concerns, the merger was an acquisition by a major international producer, PepsiCo and Minister Patel has openly expressed his intention to involve himself in acquisitions by foreign firms in an effort to extract a “socio-economic” tax from the merging parties. This was first seen in the Massmart/Walmart deal in 2012 but more recently in the AB-InBev/SAB and SAB/Coca-Cola mergers.

Competition lawyer, Michael-James Currie points out that a noteworthy difference between the legislative environment in terms of which the PepsiCo/Pioneer merger was assessed are the amendments to South Africa’s Competition Act. Under the new merger regime, public interest standards have been elevated, as a test, so as to be on par with the traditional competition analysis. Furthermore, the public interest grounds which the competition authorities are mandated to take into account have been expanded and now specifically include ownership levels among historically disadvantaged persons (commonly referred to as BBBEE policies in South Africa – Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment).

The Competition Tribunal’s reasons are noteworthy. In a transaction of this magnitude, the Tribunal did not provide any reasons or findings as to the assessment of the merger. There was no analysis as to the relevant markets nor an assessment of the negative effects that the merger may have on the public interest factors.

The Tribunal’s reasons jump straight to the conditions ostensibly on the basis that the merging parties, the Competition Commission and Minister Patel had “agreed” to the conditions and, therefore, there was no reason to assess the transaction and the Tribunal could go ahead and rubber stamp the terms of the agreement.

Based on the majority of the conditions imposed, it is safe to assume that the transaction raised no material competition or public interest concerns. Notwithstanding that the transaction raised no adverse effects, the conditions imposed on the merger include:

  1. The creation of a BBBEE Workers Trust which will receive at least R1.6 billion (USD 10.6 million) in equity and the appointment of a non-executive director to the PepsiCo board together with voting rights of 12.9% in lieu of the equity for a period of 5 years;
  2. Employment:
    1. A moratorium on merger related retrenchments for a period of 5 years;
    2. An undertaking to maintain the aggregate levels of employment for 5 years; and
    3. An undertaking to create 500 direct new employment opportunities and 2500 indirect employment opportunities over the next five years.
  3. An undertaking to invest a cumulative amount of R5.5 billion (USD180 million) in production capacity over the next five years.
  4. Promote procurement from local suppliers and producers;
  5. Maintain all sales and distribution agreements currently in place for a period of two years;
  6. Contribute at least R600 million (USD60 million) to the creation of a development fund to be used for education, small medium enterprise development and agriculture programs.

Despite the substantial conditions imposed on the merger, Minister Patel surely finds himself in a catch twenty two. On the one hands, Minister Patel is a socialist at heart and has very much focused his efforts on utilising the Competition Act and authorities to promote industrial policy action and advance socio-economic objectives. Now, both as Minister of Trade and Industry and in light of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s drive to attract foreign direct investment, Minister Patel needs to tread a far more intricate line than ay previously the case (under President Jacob Zuma’s reign).

On the one hand, large foreign mergers present Minister Patel with a golden opportunity to extract non-merger specific public interest commitments – which merging parties often acquiesce to in order to preclude protracted litigation. On the other, Minister Patel needs to ensure that South Africa’s message to the rest of the world is that we would welcome foreign investment with open arms.

John Oxenham says that while it is perhaps regrettable that the Competition Tribunal did not grapple fully with the extent to which these types of conditions would have been objectively justifiable in terms of the new merger control regime or whether they amount to an overreach. While the Tribunal typically does not dedicate substantial resources to evaluating mergers when there is no dispute between the parties – and understandably so – the Tribunal should be mindful of rubber-stamping approvals of this nature. The message that this decision sends to foreign firms seeking to invest in South Africa is certainly not a warm and inviting message. The lack of analysis and objective justification for the conditions sends a strong message to merging parties that the most important aspect for purposes of obtaining merger approval is to engage and reach settlement terms with Minister Patel.

When the executive becomes the gatekeeper to merger control approvals (or competition law enforcement more generally), this very rapidly blurs the distinction of the separation of powers.

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AAT exclusive, COMESA, mergers

Pepsi / Pioneer deal carefully eyed by East African merger authorities

As reported by AAT here last month, the PepsiCo / Pioneer Foods mega deal has caused the parties to agree to a number of conditions imposed by the South African Competition Commission, despite there being no material overlap between the parties which give rise to any legitimate competition concerns.

Now, COMESA has joined the field, with its Competition Commission likewise reviewing the transaction’s effect on the common market under its jurisdiction, pursuant to Notice 39/2019.  The Competition and Tariff Commission of Zimbabwe will likely provide its confidential input as to the transaction to the CCC.  According to local news outlets, the proposed U.S. $1.7 billion takeover by American conglomerate giant Pepsi has sent Zimbabwean and other local and regional competitors “into panic mode.”

In the specific context of the Zimbabwean non-alcoholic beverage market, local beverage producer Varun Beverages sells Pepsi’s brands and already enjoys significant tax benefits from its “special economic zone” status.  The local competitors’ concern is that, if Varun also obtains the full rights to distribute all of Pioneer’s FMCG products, it will put smaller rivals at a disadvantage.

Taken together with other regional taxation incentives (in Zambia, Varun had temporarily been granted a deferment of value-added tax and excise duty for five years, which was however reversed upon a finding of likely illegality), the impact may indeed affect the competitiveness of Varun’s rivals.  However, it remains to be seen whether the Pepsi/Pioneer deal itself has any material adverse competitive effects overall, as this is the transaction under review after all, comments legal practitioner Andreas Stargard.  “Besides, merger reviews pursuant to established antitrust law concern themselves not with the welfare of competitors, but with the maintenance of overall competition in the total relevant market.  Just because some rival is hurt does not make the deal anti-competitive per se,” says Stargard.  Moreover, there are major competitors still to reckon with, such as Delta brands, which has historically dominated the Zimbabwean market, and only recently lost market share to Varun, which has budgeted US$150 million in investments over the next five years.  “These investments and the increased rivalry between a potentially strengthened Varun and the existing market leader Delta may actually be considered pro-competitive indicators by the competition regulators, such as the CCC and the Zim authorities,” concludes Stargard.

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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, East Africa, Kenya, mergers, Uncategorized

KENYA: AIRTEL//TELKOM KENYA MERGER CONDITIONS TAKEN ON APPEAL

By Ruth Mosoti

In December 2019, the CAK approved the merger between two Kenyan telecom firms, Airtel and Telkom Kenya, subject to a number of wide ranging conditions.

The merging parties, however, were not satisfied with the conditions and have decided to take the CAK’S decision on review to the Competition Tribunal. Kenya’s Competition Tribunal was fully constituted and became operational in May 2019 after four members were appointed to the panel.

In terms of  the Kenyan Competition Act, any party aggrieved by a decision of the CAK in relation to a merger has 30 days to file for a review of that merger before the Tribunal. The 30 days period commences from the date the CAK’s decision is published in the gazette. Accordingly, although the merger was formally approved in October 2019, the merging parties had to wait until December 2019 for the gazette, containing the CAK’s decision, to be published before a notice for review could be filed.

The Tribunal has a broad range of powers and may overturn, amend or confirm the decision of the CAK. The Tribunal may also, if it considers it appropriate to do so, refer the matter back to the CAK for reconsideration of certain issues.

Turning to the conditions themselves, one of the contentious conditions relates to having the spectrum revert back to the government upon expiry of the merging parties’ license.

This is concerning as it is the Communications Authority of Kenya that issues and renews licences. The spectrum allocation by Communication Authority is an asset in the hands of the holder. Assuming that the spectrum is being utilized in accordance with the licence, ordinarily renewal is guaranteed.

The CAK’s decision that the license must revert back to the government is concerning as it seems to overlap with the Communications Authority’s mandate. John Oxenham, a director of Primerio, says that the interplay and conflict between the roles of competition and communications agencies are not unique to Kenya. In South Africa there have also been a number of issues which have raised as to which agency is best suited to assess ‘competition law matters’. A memorandum of understanding between the South African Competition Commission and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has been concluded in an effort to ensure consistency and enhanced collaboration between the two agencies in this regard.

The CAK’s conditions in this merger seem to be at odds with the CAK’s approach adopted in previous matters. For instance, when Yui exited the Kenyan market, both Airtel and Safaricom acquired Yu’s assets (including licenses). Although Safaricom had a larger chunk of the 2G spectrum, the CAK did not seem to take Safaricom’s market size into account when these assets were acquired. Perhaps the CAK appreciates that there was a missed opportunity.

This is will be the Tribunal’s first opportunity to review the CAK’s decision relating to a  merger and it will be interesting to see how robustly the Tribunal scrutinizes the CAK’s decision with reference to economic evidence. As competition lawyer Michael-James Currie points out, unfortunately, the CAK does not publish detailed reasons which underpin its decisions and it is, therefore, often difficult to fully appreciate the CAK’s reasoning or assess whether the CAK’s decision is sufficiently supported by the underlying evidence. Hopefully the Tribunal’s reasons in this matter will be more comprehensive, thereby contributing positively to creating precedent.

Currie also points out that the CAK imposed a public interest condition relating to a moratorium of any merger specific retrenchments for a two year period. The merging parties are appealing this condition as well and have proposed that the moratorium be reduced to 12 months. The role of public interest factors in merger control has been materially influenced by the South African merger control regime where employment related conditions are a common feature in merger conditions. Moreover, two year moratoriums is usually the ‘benchmark’ standard although moratoriums ranging from 3-5 years have also been imposed on parties in South Africa. It will be interesting to gauge the Tribunal’s approach to public interest factors and whether we will see a unique approach to the assessment of such conditions or whether the Tribunal is likely to follow the South African approach.

[Ruth is a Primerio competition law practitioner based in Nairobi, Kenya.]

 

 

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AAT exclusive, East Africa, Egypt, mergers, Transportation

Egyptian taxi saga: antitrust watchdog reverses course on $3.1 billion Uber acquisition

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AAT, East Africa, fines, Kenya, mergers, Uncategorized

Enforcement Update: Kenya Competition Authority imposes administrative penalty for gun-jumping (prior implementation of a merger)

  • update by Michael-James Currie

In September 2019, the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) formally penalised two merging parties for having implemented a transaction without having obtaining the requisite prior regulatory approval.

The trigger for mandatory notification in this case was a change from joint control to sole control when Patricia Cheng acquired an additional 50% of the shareholding in Moringa School.

The maximum penalty which may be imposed for prior implementation is 10% of the parties’ combined turnover in Kenya. In this case, the CAK imposed a nominal penalty (approximately USD 5000) in light of the parties having voluntarily notified the CAK of their failure to obtain prior approval, having co-operated with the CAK’s investigatory agency and after having subsequently assessed the transaction, the CAK concluded that the merger was unlikely to have any adverse effects on competition and would have positive public interest benefits.

The public interest benefits included the fact that the school would offer coding technology to over 1000 students and employees over 100 staff members.

In light of the mitigating factors, the CAK found that the penalty was balanced taking into account principles of deterrence and proportionality of the infringement.

The case is noteworthy not only because it signals a clear message from the CAK that the prior implementation of mergers will attract penalties (which are likely to increase substantially as firms ought to have greater awareness of the merger control regime in Kenya) but also confirms that a move from sole to joint control of an entity or, as in this case, a move from joint to sole control, requires mandatory notification to the CAK.

The CAK has one of the most effective merger control regimes in Africa and is increasingly becoming a more robust competition agency from an enforcement perspective.

[Michael-James Currie is a competition lawyer practising across the majority of sub-Saharan African jurisdictions]

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

Kenyan Competition Watchdog suspends Telkom Kenya / Airtel deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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