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.

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Restriction on parallel imports gets red-lighted by CAK

Enforcement Update: Kenya Exemption Applications

The Competition Authority of Kenya (“CAK”) recently issued a press release on its two decisions to reject exemptions applications under sections 25 and 26 of the Kenyan Competition Act 12 of 2010. The CAK rejected applications by WOW beverages (a leading distributor in the alcoholic beverages industry) and the Institute of Certified Public Secretaries (a professional body, hereafter “ICPS”).

WOW beverages filed an exemption application to the CAK, which would have allowed it to secure contracts with seven international suppliers to import and distribute exclusively 214 premium wine and spirit brands in Kenya. WOW beverages argued that the proposed exclusive contracts were necessary to protect its investment and would protect consumers from defective products, and guarantee accountability in the event that such products enter the Kenyan market. The CAK rejected this argument stating: “The Authority [CAK] is of the opinion that parallel imports, through legal channels, are likely to bring more benefits to Kenyan consumers, including the enhancement of intra-brand competition which often leads to lower prices.

The CAK’s decision on the application brought by ICPS (which was one of the first professional bodies to attempt to obtain an exemption to set fee guidelines) made it clear that there was no evidence to suggest that fixing prices for auditing services will improve the profession or prevent its decline and, instead, it is likely to eliminate the incentive to offer quality services. Interestingly, the CAK went a step further to state that “price fixing by professional associations extinguish[es] competition with no plausible public benefits” and went on to warn other professions that “the decision to reject the institute’s exemption application sends a strong message to professional bodies that fee guidelines decrease competition, reduce innovation and efficiencies, and limit customer choices”.  This likely follows from the recent increase in exemption applications brought by other professional bodies in Kenya such as the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya and the Law Society of Kenya (which has a remuneration order). The CAK’s decisions on these applications are likely to be published in short order.

With increased awareness of competition law in Kenya, more entities are applying to the CAK for exemptions primarily to ensure that they are not found to be engaging in anticompetitive conduct, where the penalty can be up to 10% of the turnover of the entity.

According to practicing Kenyan antitrust lawyer, Ruth Mosoti, the CAK has powers to allow an entity to engage in what would ordinarily be considered anticompetitive conduct.  The Act provides a framework on how such applications are to be determined “but, most importantly, the benefits must outweigh the competition concerns and meet the public-interest requirement.  The competition authority also appears to put great emphasis on espousing international best practices.  It is therefore important when one is making such an application to ensure that the same is backed by international best practices.”

Andreas Stargard, Ms. Mosoti’s colleague at Primerio Ltd., echoes her sentiments.  He notes that the CAK follows in the well-tread footsteps of other international competition enforcers, which have dealt with antitrust exemption applications for decades: “Similar to the European Commission in its past rulings on meritless Article 101(3) exemption requests, the CAK has diligently applied common-sense competition principles in these two recent cases.”  Stargard advises that other companies or trade groups wishing to seek reprieve from the Kenyan Act should consider certain key factors first before approaching the CAK:

First, ask yourself whether the proposed conduct for which you seek an exemption contributes to improving something other than your own bottom line (such as innovation that benefits others, or efficiency or a reduction in emissions, etc.), and consider whether consumers at large receive share of the resulting benefits.

In addition, just as with traditional joint-venture analysis, be prepared to articulate how the proposed agreement or restriction is absolutely indispensable to obtaining these benefits and accomplishing the stated economic goal.

Finally, seek competent legal advice from experts, who will be able to provide a professional evaluation whether or not the agreement you seek to exempt is likely to qualify under the criteria of sections 25 and 26 of the Act — or whether the CAK will rule against it, finding that an exclusivity clause or or restriction you seek will more likely than not eliminate competition.

For more on recent exemption application see our related articles, exclusively at AAT: Seeking Exemptions From Resale Price Maintenance Rules and Airlines Seek Antitrust Exemption: Kq-Cak Application Pending

 

 

 

New Kenya domestic merger thresholds proposed, limiting notifications

The Competition Authority of Kenya (“the CAK”) has issued a new proposal introducing financial thresholds for merger notifications which will exempt firms with less than 1 billion Kenyan Shillings (KSh)(approximately US$10 million) domestic turnover from filing a merger notification with the CAK.

Currently, it is mandatory to notify the CAK of all mergers, irrespective of their value.  According to Stephany Torres of Primerio Limited, this may deter investments in Kenya as the merger is subject to delays and additional transaction costs for the merging parties while the CAK assesses it.

In terms of the new proposal notification of the proposed merger to the CAK is not required where the parties to the merger have a combined annual turnover and/or gross asset value in Kenya, whichever is the higher, of below KSh500 million (about US$5 million or South African R60 million).

Mergers between firms which have a combined annual turnover or gross asset value, whichever is the higher, in Kenya of between KSH 500 million and KSH 1 billion may be considered for exclusion.  In this case, the merging parties will still need to notify the CAK of the proposed merger.  The CAK will then make the decision as to whether to approve the merger or whether the merger requires a more in depth investigation.

It is mandatory to notify a merger where the target firm has an annual revenue or gross asset value of KSh 500 million, and the parties’ combined annual turnover and/or gross asset value, whichever is the higher, meets or exceeds KSh 1 billion.

Notwithstanding the above, where the acquiring firm has an annual revenue or gross asset value, whichever is the higher, of KSH 10 billion, and the merging parties operate in the same market and/or the proposed merger gives rise to vertical integration, then notification to the CAK is required regardless of the value of the target firm.  However, if the proposed merger meets the thresholds for notification in the supra-national Common Market for Eastern and South Africa (“COMESA”), then the CAK will accede to the jurisdiction of the COMESA Competition Commission (“CCC”) and the merging parties would not have to file a merger with the CAK.

COMESA is a regional competition authority having jurisdiction over competition law matters within its nineteen member states, of which Kenya is one.

It is worth mention that Kenya is also a member state of the East African Community (“the EAC”).  As AAT reported recently, the East African Community Competition Authority (“the EACCA”) became operational in April 2018 and its mandate is to investigate competition law matters within its five partner states  (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda).  There is no agreement between the CAK and EACCA similar to the one between the CAK and CCC, and it uncertain how mergers notifiable in both Kenya and the EAC will be dealt with.

 

Notifying African M&A – balancing burdens & costs

Merger filings in Africa remain costly and cumbersome

By AAT guest contributor Heather Irvine, Esq.

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Competition Commission (COMESA) recently announced that it has received over US$3 million in merger filing fees between December 2015 and October 2016.

heatherirvineAbout half of these fees (approximately $1.5 million) were allocated to the national competition authorities in various COMESA states. However, competition authorities in COMESA member states – including Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe – continue to insist that merging parties lodge separate merger filings in their jurisdiction. This can add significant transactional costs – the filing fee in Kenya alone for a merger in which the merging parties combined generate more than KES 50 billion (about US $ 493 million) in Kenya is KES 2 million (nearly US $ 20 000). Since Kenya is one of the Continent’s largest economies, significant numbers of global transactions as well as those involving South African firms investing in African businesses are caught in the net.

Merging parties are in effect paying African national competition authorities twice to review exactly the same proposed merger. And they are not receiving quicker approvals or an easier fling process in return. Low merger thresholds mean that even relatively small transactions, often with no impact on competition at all, may trigger multiple filings. There is no explanation for why COMESA member states have failed to amend their local competition laws despite signing the COMESA treaty over 2 years ago.

Filing fees are even higher if a proposed cross-border African merger transaction involves a business in Tanzania or Swaziland– the national authorities there have recently insisted that filing fees must be calculated based on the merging parties’ global turnover (even though the statutory basis for these demands are not clear).

The problem will be exacerbated even further if more regional African competition authorities, like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the proposed East African Competition authority, commence active merger regulation.

Although memoranda of understanding were recently signed between South Africa and some other relatively experienced competition regulators on the Continent, like Kenya and Namibia, there are generally few formal procedures in place to harmonise merger filing requirements, synchronise the timing of reviews or align the approach of the regulators to either competition law or public interest issues.

The result is high filing fees, lots of duplicated effort and documents on the part of merging parties and the regulators, and slow merger reviews.

If African governments are serious about attracting global investors, they should prioritise the harmonisation of national and regional competition law regimes.

CCC Begins Conduct Enforcement & Activates Its Exemption Regime for Potentially Anti-Competitive Agreements

Parties Start Discussing Business Practices with COMESA’s CCC

As AAT reported recently — see “Growing Pains: From One-Trick Pony to Full-Fledged Enforcer?” — the COMESA Competition Commission (CCC) has begun to move from being a pure merger-control administrator to becoming a full-fledged antitrust enforcer.  The CCC issued a Notice calling on firms to notify the CCC of any agreements (both historic and forward-looking) that may be anti-competitive, for the purpose of having such agreements ‘authorised’ or ‘exempted’ under Article 20 of the COMESA Competition Regulations.  (More details on that regime are in our June article, referenced above.)

Eveready products (sample)

Eveready products (sample)

AAT has now learned that several companies have taken the agency up on its Exemption proposal: Andreas Stargard, a competition practitioner with Primerio Ltd. observes that the CCC’s announced “leniency ‘window’ to incentivise firms to come forward and obtain an exemption” has closed at this point in time, although he expressed doubt that the relatively short one-month period was sufficient and will likely be extended.  Says Stargard: “We are seeing several parties, both global & local companies, who are beginning to take the CCC’s non-merger enforcement seriously.  These undertakings are considering to obtain advance clearance of their business practices under the Commission’s Notice procedure.”  One such example, he adds, is Kenya’s financially embattled Eveready East Africa: it has reportedly sought CCC approval of its agreements with international manufacturers for the importation and distribution within the COMESA common market of their diverse products, ranging from batteries to fountain pens to CloroCOMESA old flag colorx-brand chemicals.  The Commission has invited “general public and stakeholders” for comments according to its formal statement.

In light of these developments, Stargard advises that:
“multi-national firms operating within COMESA or jointly with a COMESA-based importer or other domestic business partner should consider engaging counsel to evaluate their practices, and if they may fall within Article 16 of the Regulations, consider approaching the CCC for an authorisation letter.”

 

COMESA sees slight uptick in merger notifications

Merger filings still dither, but YTD numbers now tentatively promise to exceed FY2015

Making sense of the COMESA Competition Commission’s merger notification site is no  easy undertaking.  The perplexing nature of its case-numbering system mirrors perhaps only the level of confusion surrounding the CCC’s original merger threshold and notification-fee guidelines (e.g., see here on that topic).

As we pointed out here, the merger statistics (as they had been released as of January 2016) for 2015 were disappointingly low.  In today’s post, please note that we are upgrading those numbers, however, to reflect additional material now made available on the official CCC web resource, reflecting 3 additional filings, bringing the year-end total for FY2015 to 18.  Three of those were “Phase 2” cases.  In addition, according to the CCC, there were 3 supplemental cases in which “Comfort Letters” were issued to the parties.

For year-to-date 2016 statistics, the numbers look analogous, albeit somewhat higher than the 2015 slump — that is to say, still diminished from the 2013-2014 height of COMESA ‘mergermania’, during which (mostly international) counsel took the confusion surrounding the CCC notification thresholds to heart and erred on the side of caution (and more fees), advising clients to notify rather than not to (65 in the 2 years), or to seek Comfort Letters, which also were issued in record numbers (19 total for the 2-year period)…   With that said, the agency is now up to 16 merger cases, with 2 Second-Phase matters on deck.

AAT 2016 September mergermania statistics

Number of merger notifications based on CCC-published notices (using educated inferences where the original CCC case numbers, dates and/or descriptions lack intelligibility; note that 2013-14 statistics only reflect actual filings made available online and not the official statistics issued by the CCC of 21 and 43, respectively)                                                                         (c) AfricanAntitrust.com

Growing Pains: From One-Trick Pony to Full-Fledged Enforcer?

COMESA Competition Commission Expands Enforcement Ambit from Merger Control to Conduct —

CCC Seeks Information on “Potentially” Anti-Competitive Agreements

By AAT Senior Contributor, Michael-James Currie.

Breaking News: The COMESA Competition Commission (CCC) has issued a notice (the “Notice”) calling on firms to notify the CCC of any agreements (both historic and forward looking) that may be anti-competitive, for the purpose of having such agreements ‘authorised’ or ‘exempted’ in terms of Article 20 of the COMESA Competition Regulations (the “Regulations”).

In terms of Article 20 of the Regulations, agreements which are anticompetitive may be exempted by the CCC if such an ‘anticompetitive agreement’ contributes positively to the ‘public interest’ to the extent that the public interest benefit outweighs the anti-competitive effect.

In terms of the CCC’s notice 1/2013, the following agreements may well be considered to be in the public interest when evaluating whether an anti-competitive agreement or concerted practice should be exempted:

  • Joint research and development ventures;
  • Specialisation agreements; and
  • Franchising agreements

As to the agreements or concerted practices which may be anti-competitive, the Notice refers specifically to the restrictive business practices listed in Article 16 of the Regulations which states that:

The following shall be prohibited as incompatible with the Common Market:

all agreements between undertakings, decisions by associations of undertakings and concerted practices which:

(a) may affect trade between Member States; and

(b) have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the Common Market.”

It should be noted that Article 16 is deliberately drafted broadly so as to prohibit conduct which has as its “object” the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition. Certain conduct, such as price fixing, fixing of trading terms or conditions, allocating suppliers or markets or collusive tendering may be considered as having as its ‘object’ the distortion or restriction of competition in the market. Accordingly, firms who have engaged in this type of conduct may be held liable in the absence of any evidence of an anti-competitive effect (whether actual or potential).

Says Andreas Stargard, a competition practitioner with Primerio Ltd., “[t]he CCC’s notice is a clear sign that the agency is gathering momentum in its efforts to detect and prosecute anticompetitive practices within the member states — and is going beyond its ‘one-trick pony’ status as a pure merger-control gatekeeper.  We anticipate a more active role by the CCC in conduct investigations and presumptively also enforcement actions, as opposed to its previous rubber-stamping activity of approving transactions with a COMESA community dimension (and concomitant collection of vast filing fees).”

The CCC has recently signed a number of Memoranda of Understanding and Cooperation Agreements with various member states as well as a tripartite agreement with other broader regional forums such as the Southern African Development Community and the East African Community.

COMESA old flag colorThe web of MoU’s recently concluded, which have as their primary objectives the facilitation of information exchanges and cooperation between competition agencies, is certainly a significant stride made to assist the authorities, including the CCC, in detecting and prosecuting anticompetitive practices which may be taking place across the African continent.

A further indication of the CCC’s growing appetite and confidence to identify anticompetitive practices is that the CCC has announced that it is conducting a market enquiry into the grocery retail sector.  This is the first market inquiry to be conducted by the CCC.

In terms of the CCC’s Notice, firms who have not yet notified the CCC of agreements which may be anticompetitive, have approximately one month to do so. In other words, the CC has offered a leniency ‘window’ to incentivise firms to come forward and obtain an exemption in respect of agreements already implemented which may be in contravention of Article 16 of the Regulations.

 

Gun jumping: Record antitrust fine for failure to notify merger

S.A. Competition Tribunal imposes record fine for missed merger filing in healthcare

By AAT guest author Meghan Eurelle

On 7 April 2016, the South African Competition Tribunal (“Tribunal”) confirmed that merger parties Life Healthcasouth_africare Group Proprietary Limited and Joint Medical Holdings Limited had entered into a consent agreement with record-breaking consequences.  The two hospital groups admitted to not complying with the Competition Act, 1998 (“the Act”) by failing to notify the competition authorities of their merger and to obtain the required approval prior to the merger being implemented; and subsequently agreed to jointly pay an administrative penalty of 10 million Rand, or approximately U.S. $690,000.  (Interestingly, the parties also conceded that they were guilty of fixing the price of services back in 2004 but the Tribunal dropped these charges.)

gunjumpingThe R10-million administrative penalty is a record amount for gun-jumping, or the failure to notify the competition authorities of a merger.  Previously, the highest penalty for a failure to notify was just over R1-million. The new record penalty follows numerous warnings by the Competition Commission (“Commission”) that it intended to materially increase penalties for failure to notify mergers — says Andreas Stargard, an antitrust practitioner with Pr1merio advisors, “South Africa has a suspensory merger-notification system, like most international antitrust regimes do.  And unlike other African countries, such as Senegal or Mauritius, the domestic S.A. competition legislation prohibits transacting parties from effecting the transfer of control or beneficial ownership prior to obtaining clearance from the authorities.”

In terms of the Act, transactions that are defined as “intermediate mergers” and “large mergers” must be notified to the Commission and may only be lawfully implemented if it has been approved, with or without conditions, by the relevant competition authorities. Small mergers do not have to be notified in the ordinary course and may be implemented without approval unless required by the Commission.

Merger notification thresholds in South Africa remain as follows:

Acquiring and Target firm (merger group) Target firm
Large Merger Combined assets and/or turnover of at least R6.6-billion. AND Assets and/or turnover of at least R190-million.
Intermediate Merger Combined assets and/or turnover equals or exceeds R560-million but is less than R6.6-billion. AND Assets and/or turnover equals or exceeds R80-million but is less than R190-million.
Small Merger Combined assets and/or turnover of less than R560-million. OR Assets and/or turnover of less than R80-million.

In light of the above, it serves as an important reminder to parties that they ensure compliance with the competition authorities and the Act so as to avoid costly consequences.

COMESA acknowledges low merger filing stats

2015 figures plummet 66% year-over-year

Going from 44 notifications in 2014 to 15 filings last year, the Competition Commission of the COMESA common-market area has seen a dramatic decline in merger filings.

Says Andreas Stargard, a competition lawyer with Africa advisory firm Pr1merio:

“These statistics are akin to the agency’s inaugural year — a slump that can only be explained by one of two likely underlying rationales:

Andreas Stargard, editor

A. Stargard

(1) Potential filers have begun to follow widespread advice from legal counsel that effectively admonishes would-be notifying parties not to do so until COMESA establishes a more robust enforcement and notification regime; or (2) — and this is the CCC’s preferred official explanation — the increased filing thresholds as of March 2015 caused fewer transactions to be caught in the mandatory filing net of the regulator.”

Of further concern, Stargard notes, is that the supporting merger documents made available by the CCC do not reflect the purported official statistics.  This fact is reflected in the MergerMania article published on AAT last August..  “For each and every one of the 15 filings identified by the Commission in its official statement, we should be able to see the underlying SOM [statement of merger] and the concomitant Decision — ideally published contemporaneously with the occurrence of each relevant event,” he says.  “Unfortunately, on the CCC merger site, two merger filings are missing entirely (numbers 9 and 10), and the others are commonly published many months after the public-comment deadline for the transactions has long expired.”

To date, a parsing of the (available) 2015 statistics shows that 3 of 15 cases actually went into Phase Two review, Stargard observes.  “This would generally imply a more serious concern raised by the authority in terms of the effect on competition post-merger.  Here, however, it is quite unclear what the potential threat to competition in, for example, a purely private-equity deal would be.  The official decision (no. 15, from November 2015) fails to even hint at a possible threat — as one would commonly expect from a PE to PE transaction, which usually raises little to no antitrust eyebrows…”

Our updated AAT COMESA MergerMania statistics are therefore as follows (again noting the fact that AAT bases its count on only the official, published and available merger documents, instead of relying on mere press release-based summaries published by the CCC).  We also note that to date, 2016 has seen one “merger inquiry notice,” namely of the Dutch Yara / Zambian Greenbelt fertiliser deal.  The public-comment period for that transaction expires on January 22, 2016.

Number of merger notifications based on CCC-published notices

Number of merger notifications based on CCC-published notices

The full text of the COMESA release follows below:

During the year 2015, the Commission assessed and cleared 15 merger transactions. The transactions involved sectors such as insurance, food additives, water treatment, agro-chemical, banking, telecommunication, non alcohol-ic beverage, publishing, packaging and retail. The Commission handled 12 merger notifications in the year 2013 and 44 merger notifications in the year 2014. The Pie Chart below shows the number of mergers handled by the Commission from inception to date.

COMESA merger statistics (official graphic)

As shown in the pie chart the Commission dealt with more mergers in 2014 as compared to 2013 but this trend has gone down in 2015. This trend may be attributed to the supposition that in 2013, the Commission had just commenced operations and therefore some stakeholders were not immediately aware of its existence and operations. By 2014, most stake-holders had become aware of the Commission and its operations, hence the significant increase in the number of mergers notified. The significant reduction in 2015 can be attributed to the supposition that the merger notification thresholds approved by the Council of Ministers on 26 March 2015 which has resulted in smaller mergers escaping the notification. Before 26 March 2015, the merger notification thresholds were Zero hence all mergers were notifiable regardless of size.

Insight into COMESA thinking: CCC executives speak

COMESA old flag color

COMESA officials’ pronouncements: merger enforcement #1, cartel ‘follow-on enforcement’, jurisdictional swamp

As other attendees of the 17 July 2015 regional sensitisation workshop have done, the Zimbabwean daily NewsDay has reported on the Livingstone, Zambia event — a session that has yielded a plethora of rather interesting pronouncements from COMESA Competition Commission (“CCC”) officials, including on non-merger enforcement by the CCC, as we have noted elsewhere.

In light of the additional comments made by CCC officials — in particular George Lipimile, the agency’s CEO, and Willard Mwemba, its head of mergers — we decided to select a few and publish the  “AAT Highlights: COMESA Officials’ Statements” that should be of interest to competition-law practitioners active in the region (in no particular order):

M&A: CCC claims approval of 72 deals since 2014

Non-Merger Enforcement by COMESA

As we noted in yesterday’s post, the CCC’s head, executive director George Lipimile, foreshadowed non-merger enforcement by the agency, including an inquiry into the “shopping mall sector,” as well as cartel enforcement.  On the latter topic, Mr. Lipimile highlighted cartels in the fertiliser, bread and construction industries as potential targets for the CCC — all of which, of course, would constitute a type of “follow-on enforcement” by the CCC, versus an actual uncovering by the agency itself of novel, collusive conduct within its jurisdictional borders, as John Oxenham, a director at Africa consultancy Pr1merio, notes.
“Here, in particular, the three examples given by Mr. Lipimile merely constitute existing cartel investigations that we know well from the South African experience — indeed, the SA Competition Commission has already launched, and in large part completed, its prosecutions of the three alleged cartels,” says Oxenham.
As AAT has reported since the 2013 inception of the CCC, antitrust practitioners have been of two minds when it comes to the CCC: on the one hand, they have criticised the COMESA merger notification regime, its unclear thresholds and exorbitant fees, in the past.  On the other hand, while perhaps belittling the CCC’s merger experience, the competition community has been anxious to see what non-merger enforcement within COMESA would look like, as this (especially cartel investigations and concomitant fines under the COMESA Regulations) has a potentially significantly larger impact on doing business within the 19-member COMESA jurisdiction than merely making a mandatory, but simple, filing with an otherwise “paper tiger” agency.  Says Andreas Stargard, also with Pr1merio:
“If the CCC steps up its enforcement game in the non-transactional arena, it could become a true force to reckon with in the West.  I can envision a scenario where the CCC becomes capable of launching its own cartel matters and oversees a full-on leniency regime, not having to rely on the ‘follow-on enforcement’ experience from other agencies abroad.  The CCC has great potential, but it must ensure that it fulfills it by showing principled deliberation and full transparency in all of its actions — otherwise it risks continued doubt from outsiders.”

COMESA Judge Proposes Judicial Enhancements

Justice Samuel Rugege, the former principal judge of the COMESA Court of Justice, is quoted as arguing against the COMESA Treaty’s requirement for exhaustion of local remedies prior to bringing a matter before the Court of Justice:
“I think that the rule ought to be removed and members should have access to the courts like the Ecowas Court of Justice. The matter has been raised by the president of the Court and the matter needs to be pursued. It is an obstacle to those who want to come and cannot especially on matters that are likely to be matters of trade and commercial interest. Commercial matters must be resolved in the shortest possible time as economies depend on trade,” Rugege said.
Justice Rugege also highlighted the potential for jurisdictional infighting in the COMESA region (see our prior reporting on this topic here), observing that said COMESA currently lacks any framework for coordinating matters involving countries that are part of both SADC and the COMESA bloc.