S.A. Clears 3-to-2 Infant Nutrition Merger with Remedies

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The South African Competition Tribunal has green-lighted the almost $12bn (R106bn) Nestlé/Pfizer deal, which will combine the largest and 3rd-largest infant-nutrition companies in the South African republic, leaving competitor Aspen in second place.

The conditions imposed by the Tribunal echo those accepted by the E.U., the Australian and other authorities, which require the merged entity to license certain of its brands to independent third parties, for up to 10 years post-closing, in order to stimulate and maintain a competitive marketplace.

To seasoned antitrust practitioners, certain aspects of the deal ring a bell — although the outcome is diametrically different (except for Mexico, where the transaction has been rejected thus far by the authorities): I speak of the Heinz/Beech-Nut U.S. deal in 2000, where the FTC blocked the deal. In the agency’s view at the time, the only competitive constraint, according to the FTC, was the Gerber company, which would have been the sole effective remaining competitor. For a retroactive analysis on this, see here for one of the voting Commissioner’s point of view. The FTC promptly sued to block the 3-to-2 “Baby Food” deal, as it became known in the antitrust world, and ultimately prevailed both at the court level and, in the end result, with the parties’ abandonment of the merger while an appeal was pending.

In conclusion, it appears that the efficiencies defence, creative design of remedies (e.g., licensing), and overall agency outlooks have changed in more than a decade, after all.

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COMESA MERGER FILING FORMS- FORM 12

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The COMESA Competition Commission has recently made available the relevant merger filing documentation and forms.  Complying with the requirements set out in Form 12 certainly appears, at first glance, to be relatively straightforward, however, contrary to what is stated in the COMESA Regulations, the Merger notification form appears to prohibit the closing of a transaction without approval (i.e., parties may not implement the merger or acquisition without the COMESA Commission approval).

The attempt to legislate by way of the notification documents further erodes  merger control certainty.  Given the extremely wide ambit of what constitutes a notifiable merger, the COMESA Commission will need to ensure that the contradiction contained in the merger filing forms is urgently rectified.

“How much for this merger filing?” – Clarifying the COMESA fees

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We have recently seen several articles and law firm client alerts incorrectly identifying the filing fee schedule of COMESA.  This post is designed to clarify and to provide accurate information to our readers.

Rule: The filing fee for a merger notification under the COMESA regime is the lower of:   [1]   500,000 COMESA-$,  or    [2]   0.5% of parties’ combined annual turnover or asset value within the COMESA market.

The confusion as to “higher of” vs. “lower of”, which has sprung up in many firm publications, may be due to the somewhat awkwardly worded language of the amendments to the original 2004 Competition Rules.  The amendments changed the text of Rule 55(4), dealing with the fee schedule and its calculation.

Example:  The two notifying parties have a combined turnover of 90m COM$ in the common market of COMESA.  In this scenario, 0.5% of 90m COM$ equals 450,000 COM$, which is lower than the maximum fee of 500,000.  Thus, the fee to be paid by the parties is 450,000 COM$.

As a rule of thumb, if the combined annual turnover/revenues/asset values of the notifying parties is 100 million COMESA-$, then the fee will be the maximum 500,000 amount.  Otherwise, it will be lower.

COMESA CCC now functional

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COMESA Fundamentals:

COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) is a supra-national group of 19 sovereign African countries; it is the successor entity to the 1982 Preferential Trade Area Agreement among eastern and southern African nations.  For starters, here is a map of COMESA’s member states, which are as follows: Burundi, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Notably absent from its membership is the largest economy of the region, namely South Africa.  Likewise, Tanzania is no longer a member, having left the bloc in 2000.

What is the competition-law relevance of COMESA:

Headquartered in Lusaka (Zambia), the 19 year-old organisation has recently upped the ante for companies engaged in commercial activities within the borders of COMESA member states…  It has created and activated the COMESA Competition Commission (the “CCC”).

The CCC, based in Lilongwe (Malawi), is tasked with supervising and enforcing competition-related matters within the bloc.  In this function, it may be compared to the Directorate General Competition (“DG COMP”) of the European Union, as a supra-national enforcement authority, specialised in antitrust / competition-law matters.  The CCC’s primary areas of responsibility are, unsurprisingly:

  1. Merger enforcement (using an “SLC” – substantial lessening of competition – test)
  2. Cartel conduct and other horizontal and potentially also vertical agreements
  3. Unilateral conduct (i.e., abuse of a dominant position in the market)

The COMESA Board of Commissioners is an appellate authority in relation to the CCC.  Companies may also maintain actions against COMESA member states before the Court of Justice, provided they have fully exhausted their national-court remedies.