Pan-African Antitrust Round-Up: Mauritius to Egypt & Tunisia (in)to COMESA

A spring smorgasbord of African competition-law developments

As AAT reported in late February, it is not only the COMESA Competition Commission (CCC), but also the the Egyptian antitrust authorities, which now have referred the heads of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to the Egyptian Economic Court for competition-law violations relating to certain exclusive marketing & broadcasting rights.  In addition, it has been reported that the Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) has also initiated prosecution of seven companies engaged in alleged government-contract bid rigging in the medical supply field, relating to hospital supplies.

Nigeria remains, for now, one of the few powerhouse African economies without any antitrust legislation (as AAT has reported on here, here, here and here).

But, notes Andreas Stargard, an antitrust attorney with Primerio Ltd., “this status quo is possibly about to change: still waiting for the country’s Senate approval and presidential sign-off, the so-called Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill of 2016 recently made it past the initial hurdle of receiving sufficient votes in the lower House of Representatives.  Especially in light of the Nigerian economy’s importance to trade in the West African sphere, swift enactment of the bill would be a welcome step in the right direction.”

The global trend in competition law towards granting immunity to cartel whistleblowers has now been embraced by the Competition Commission of Mauritius (CCM), but with a twist: in a departure from U.S. and EU models, which usually do not afford amnesty to the lead perpetrators of hard-core antitrust violations, the CCM will also grant temporary immunity (during the half-year period from March 1 until the end of August 2017) not only to repentant participants but also to lead initiators of cartels, under the country’s Leniency Programme.

The Executive Director of the CCM, Deshmuk Kowlessur, is quoted in the official agency statement as follows:

‘The policy worldwide including Mauritius, regarding leniency for cartel is that the initiators of cartel cannot benefit from leniency programmes and get immunity from or reduction in fines. The amnesty for cartel initiatorsis a one-off opportunity for cartel initiators to benefit from immunity or up to 100% reduction in fines as provided for under the CCM’s leniency programme. The amnesty is a real incentive for any enterprise to end its participation in a cartel. In many cases it is not clear for the cartel participant itself as to which participant is the initiator. The participants being unsure whether they are an initiator finds it too risky to disclose the cartel and apply for leniency. The amnesty provides this unique window of 6 months where such a cartel participant can apply and benefit from leniency without the risk of seeing its application rejected on ground of it being an initiator.’

 

COMESA Competition Commission logoFinally, COMESA will grow from 19 to 20 member states, welcoming Tunisia at the upcoming October 2017 summit: the official statement notes that “Tunisia first applied for observer status in COMESA in 2005 but the matter was not concluded. In February, 2016 the country formally wrote to the Secretary General making inquiries on joining COMESA. This set in motion the current process towards its admission. once successfully concluded, Tunisia will become the 20[th] member of COMESA.”

This means that within 6 months of accession to the Common Market, Tunisia’s business community will be bound by the competition regulations (including merger control) enforced by the CCC.  Speaking of the CCC, the agency also recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Mauritian CCM on March 24, facilitating inter-agency coordination.  In addition, the Zimbabwean Competition and Tariff Commission (CTC) will host a national sensitisation workshop on COMESA competition policy on May 16, 2017 in Harare, purportedly as a result of “over 50 transactions involving cross-border mergers notified” to the CCC involving the Zimbabwean market.  “The main objective of the national workshop is to raise awareness among the key stakeholders and business community in Zimbabwe with regards to the provisions and implementation of COMEA competition law,” the CTC noted in a statement.

 
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COMESA Competition Commission investigates football broadcasting rights

COMESA old flag colorThe COMESA Competition Commission (CCC) recently announced that it will be investigating allegations of exclusionary conduct in relation to the Confederate of African Football’s (CAF) decision to extend an exclusive marketing of broadcasting rights and sponsorship agreement with Lagardère Sports in relation CAF tournaments.

It is not yet clear whether the CCC is investigating this matter as an ‘abuse of dominance’ case or rather, in terms of Article 16 of the CCC’s Rules, general restrictive practices.

COMESA Article 16 essentially precludes firms from implementing an agreement in the Common Market which has as its object or effect the distortion or prevention of competition in the Common Market, to the extent that it may restrict trade between member states.

The Registrar of the CCC, Meti Demissie Disasa, is quoted as saying: “The aim of the Commission’s investigation is to ensure that competition in the commercialisation and award of media and marketing rights for African Football tournaments is not undermined as a result of anti-competitive practices from market operators and that football fans can benefit from better and more coverage of the games and affordable viewing options.”

“Any agreement which contravenes Article 16 is automatically void. In light of the fact that the CAF agreement in question here is valuable and moreover only set to expire in 2028, a voiding of the contract by the CCC would likely be contested by the parties,” says competition practitioner Andreas Stargard.

cafsoccerThe CCC, which has to date largely focused on merger control, has certainly made clear strides to moving towards a greater enforcement role, as AAT first reported here. While there is still some ways to go, the current investigation follows the CCC’s announcement that it intends to conduct a market inquiry into the grocery retail sector and has also issued an announcement calling on all firms who may have exclusive agreements being implemented in the Common Market to disclose these agreements to the CCC in an effort to obtain authorisation (i.e., an exemption) from the CCC.  In 2016, Eveready applied to the CCC to have a number of distribution agreements “authorised” by the CCC.

The ECA and the CCC signed a Memorandum of Understanding in August 2016 which envisages increased cooperation between the two agencies including information exchanges.

In relation to the CAF complaint, the CCC received the complaint by the Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) who is in turn also investigating this matter. This raises an interesting question as to whether or not the CCC has exclusive jurisdiction over this matter which, in terms of the CCC’s Rules, the CCC should have but other COMESA member-state competition authorities have challenged in the past.

UPDATE: the official CCC statement seeking stakeholder input includes the following passage regarding the agreements at issue:

It is alleged that on 12th June 2015, CAF entered into an agreement with Lagardère Sports S.A.S. for the exclusive commercialization of marketing and media rights of main regional football competitions in Africa, including the Africa Cup of Nations, African Nations Championship and African Champions League, for the period 2017 to 2028. CAF and Lagardère Sports S.A.S. are alleged to have previously entered into a similar commercialization agreement for marketing and media rights of CAF tournaments for the period 2009 to 2016. Consecutively and cumulatively, the length of the alleged exclusive agreement is twenty years. It should be noted that the commencement of investigations neither presupposes that the conduct being investigated is anti-competitive nor that any of the parties to the agreement has violated the Regulations. The Commission will, in accordance with the provisions of Part 3 of the Regulations, conduct an inquiry into the agreements concluded between CAF and Lagardère Sports S.A.S. to determine whether the alleged conduct has as its object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition in the Common Market or in a substantial part of it. In view of the foregoing, the Commission hereby gives notice to all interested stakeholders and the general public to submit their representations to the Commission … no later than 21st April 2017.