Events focus on media & business community’s understanding of competition rules and practical workload of CCC
For two days this week, COMESA will hold its 5th annual “Regional Sensitization Workshop for Business Reporters“, focussed on provisions and application of the COMESA competition regulations and trade developments within the 19-country common market.
Over 30 journalists from close to a dozen countries are expected to participate in the event, held in Narobi, Kenya, from Monday – Tuesday.
AfricanAntitrust.com will cover all pertinent news emerging from the conference. We will update this post as the conference progresses.
Speakers include a crème de la crème of East African government antitrust enforcement, including the CCC’s own Willard Mwemba (head of M&A), the CCC’s Director Dr. George Lipimile, and the Director and CEO of the Competition Authority of Kenya, Francis Wang’ombe Kariuki. Topics will include news on the rather well-developed area of of mergerenforcement, regional integration & competition policy, as well as the concept of antitrust enforcement by the CCC as to restrictive business practices, an area that has been thus far less developed by the Commission in terms of visibility and actual enforcement, especially when compared to M&A. We previously quoted Director Lipimile’s statement at a 2014 conference that, since the CCC’s commencement of operations “in January, 2013, the most active provisions of the Regulations have been the merger control provisions.”
Andreas Stargard, a competition practitioner, notes:
“We have been impressed with the Commission’s progress to-date, but remain surprised that no cartel cases have emerged from the CCC’s activities. We believe that the CCC has sufficient capacity and experience now, in its sixth year of existence, to pursue both collusion and unilateral-conduct competition cases.
Personally, I remain cautiously optimistic that the CCC will, going forward, take up the full spectrum of antitrust enforcement activities — beyond pure merger review — including monopolisation/abuse of dominance cases, as well as the inevitable cartel investigations and prosecutions that must follow.”
The media conference will conclude tomorrow evening, June 26th.
The second event, also held in Nairobi, will shift its focus both in terms of attendees and messaging: It is the CCC’s first-ever competition-law sensitization workshop for the Business Community, to take place on Wednesday. It is, arguably, even more topical than the former, given that the target audience of this workshop are the corporate actors at whom the competition legislation is aimed — invited are not only practicing attorneys, but also Managing Directors, CEOs, company secretaries, and board members of corporations. It is this audience that, in essence, conducts the type of Mergers & Acquisitions and (in some instances) restrictive, anti-competitive business conduct that falls under the jurisdiction of Messrs. Lipimile, Mwemba, and Kariuki as well as their other domestic African counterparts in the region.
The inter-regional trade component will also be emphasized; as the CCC’s materials note, “we are at a historical moment in time where the Tripartite and Continental Free Trade Area agreements are underway. The objective of these agreements is to realize a single market. Competition law plays a vital role in the realization of this objective, therefore its imperative that journalists have an understanding of how competition law contributes to the Agenda.”
Boniface Kamiti, the CAK representative replacing Mr. Kariuki at the event, noted that Africa in general and including the COMESA region “has a weak competition culture amongst businesses — which is why cartels are continuing in Africa, and the level of M&A is not at the level one would expect.” This is why media “reporting on competition advocacy is very important, to articulate the benefits of competition policy and how enforcement activities further its goals, so the COMESA countries may be able to compete with other countries, including even the EU members, at a high level.”
He also highlighted — although without further explanation — the “interplay between the COMESA competition laws and those of the member countries; most people are not aware of that!” This comment is of particular interest in light of the prior jurisdictional tension that had existed between national agencies and the CCC in the past regarding where and when to file M&A deals. These “teething issues are now fully resolved”, according to Dr. Lipimile, and there are neither de iure nor any de facto merger notification requirements in individual COMESA member states other than the “one-stop shop” CCC filing (which has, according to Mr. Mwemba, reduced parties’ M&A transaction costs by 66%).
On the issue of restrictive trade practices (RTP), the CAK reminded participants that trade associations often serve to facilitate RTP such as price-fixing cartels, which are subject to (historically not yet imposed, nor likely to be) criminal sanctions in Kenya. It also observed that (1) manufacturers’ resale price maintenance (RPM) would almost always be prosecuted under the Kenyan Competition Act, and that (2) since a 2016 legislative amendment, monopsony conduct (abuse of buyer power) is also subject to the Act’s prohibitions.
Concluding, the CAK’s Barnabas Andiva spoke of its “fruitful” collaboration with the CCC on ongoing RTP matters, noting the existing inter-agency Cooperation Agreement. Added Mr. Mwemba, “we have approximately 19 pending RTP cases.”
CCC leadership perspective: Nudging Uganda and Nigeria towards competition enforcement
George Lipimile, CEO, COMESA Competition Commission
Dr. Lipimile took up Mr. Kamiti’s “weak African competition culture” point, noting the peculiar regional issue that “between poverty and development lies competition” to enhance consumer welfare.
He took the audience through a brief history of antitrust laws globally, and encouraged journalists to explain the practical benefits of “creating competitive markets” for the population of the COMESA region at large.
He called on Uganda and Nigeria to — finally — enact a competition law. (AAT has independently reported on Uganda and also the EAC’s emphasis on its member nations having operational antitrust regimes. We observe that Uganda does have a draft Competition Bill pending for review; a fellow Ugandan journalist at the conference mentioned that there has been some, undefined, progress made on advancing it in the Ugandan legislature.) Dangote — the vast Nigerian cement conglomerate (see our prior article here) — and Lafarge played exemplary roles in Lipimile’s discourse, in which he commented that “they do not need protecting, they are large”, instead “we need more players” to compete.
Importantly, Dr. Lipimile emphasized that protectionism is anti-competitive, that “competition law must not discriminate,” and that its goal of ensuring competitive market behaviour must not be confused with the objectives of other laws that are more specifically geared to developing certain societal groups or bestow benefits on disadvantaged populations, as these are not the objectives of competition legislation.
The CCC also called on the press to play a more active role in the actual investigation of anti-competitive behaviour, by reporting on bid rigging, unreported M&A activity, suspected cartels (e.g., based on unexplained, joint price hikes in an industry), and the like. These types of media reports may indeed prompt CCC investigations, Lipimile said. Current “market partitioning” investigations mentioned by him include Coca Cola, SABMiller, and Unilever.
He concluded with the — intriguing, yet extremely challenging, in our view — idea of expanding and replicating the COMESA competition model on a full-fledged African scale, possibly involving the African Union as a vehicle.
2018 CCC workshop participants
COMESA Trade perspective
The organisation’s Director of Trade & Commerce, Francis Mangeni, presented the ‘competition-counterpart’ perspective on trade, using the timely example of Kenyan sugar imports, the cartel-like structure supporting them, and the resulting artificially high prices, noting the politically-influenced protectionist importation limitations imposed in Kenya.
Dr. Mangeni opined that the CCC “can and should scale up its operations vigorously” to address all competition-related impediments to free trade in the area.
Director of M&A, Mr. Mwemba, updated the conference on the agency’s merger-review developments. He pointed to the agency’s best-of-breed electronic merger filing mechanism (reducing party costs), and the importance of the CCC’s staying abreast of all new antitrust economics tools as well as commercial technologies in order to be able to evaluate new markets and their competitiveness (e.g., online payments).
As Mr. Mwemba rightly pointed out, most transactions “do not raise competition concerns” and those that do can be and often are resolved via constructive discussions and, in some cases, undertakings by the affected companies. In addition, the CCC follows international best practices such as engaging in pre-merger notification talks with the parties, as well as follow-ups with stakeholders in the affected jurisdictions.
Year-to-date (2018), the 24 notified mergers account for approximately $18 billion in COMESA turnover alone. Leading M&A sectors are banking, finance, energy, construction, and agriculture.
In terms of geographic origination, Kenya, Zambia, and Mauritius are the leading source nations of deal-making parties, with Zimbabwe and Uganda closely following and rounding out the Top-5 country list.
The total number of deals reviewed by the CCC since 2013 amounts to 175 with a total transaction value of US $92 billion, accounting for approximately $73.7 billion in COMESA market revenues alone. (The filing fees derived by the Commission have totaled $27.9 million, of which half is shared with the affected member states.)
All notified deals have received approval thus far. Over 90% of transactions were approved unconditionally. In 15 merger cases, the CCC decided to impose conditions on the approval.