Akzo rejects CCC notification request, claims no ‘failure-to-file’ in paint deal

Paint giant goes on offensive against COMESA request for retroactive merger filing

By AAT Editors

As AAT first reported here on Sept. 26, the COMESA Competition Commission has launched its first failure-to-file investigation into an M&A transaction (here, likely, a licensing deal), specifically involving Dutch commercial paint giant AkzoNobel and paint brand “Sadolin“.

Today’s news, reported in local Ugandan media, is that AkzoNobel’s Director for Decorative Paints in Sub-Saharan Africa, Johann Smidt, made strong comments at the “relaunch” of Sadolin Uganda, claiming that Akzo’s reassignment of the Sadolin brand name & distribution network to Crown Paints East Africa falls outside the CCC’s purview.”  This sentiment was echoed by Crown’s CEO, Rakesh Rao, saying that “[w]e do not have a merger going on; we are a fully independent plant, so COMESA does not come into the picture at all.

Competition lawyers caution that, on occasion, a business person’s notion of what constitutes a “notifiable transaction” can be at odds with the legal definition thereof, says Andreas Stargard,  an antitrust attorney with Primerio Ltd.

“Whilst they may not be a classic ‘merger’ or ‘acquisition’ in the eyes of the business people, certain types of exclusive licensing agreements or even patent or other IP [intellectual property] assignments may very well fall within the purview of competition regulators, including the COMESA Comp Com.,” said Stargard.

The facts surrounding the transaction itself are by all accounts, fairly confounding.  As best as one can interpret the media reports, the former AkzoNobel license agreement was one with an entity called “Sadolin East Africa” (SEA).  However, upon the purchase of SEA by Japanese company Kansai Plascon (AKA “Plascon Uganda” in the region), Akzo cancelled the agreement and has now entered into a new replacement license with Crown Paints (AKA Regal Paints).  It is the cancellation and reassignment that, according to two letters sent by the CCC on September 19th and 25th, requesting that the companies make retroactive merger-notification filings to bring them into belated compliance with the COMESA merger regime.

For now, we know that Akzo remains defiant (presumably basing its critical position on advice of legal counsel), with its local director stating that “whatever we have done to date has been within the laws of this country and this region”.

While some of Akzo’s statements were presumably vetted by antitrust counsel, others are at odds with a “good” antitrust story and appear to be less-carefully made proclamations: Akzo has said that “we believe that we are going to improve competition because we have a new player who is introducing a new product and an existing player, who is Sadolin and we will continue to be here,” yet its director also noted “that the war of words between Sadolin and Plascon had eaten into their market share and that this had influenced their quick agreement with Crown paints”.

As attorney Stargard observes, “it is usually not considered to be an effective antitrust defence to claim that a competitor has ‘eaten into your market share’, and that your actions that are now under investigation were motivated by said competition…”

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Adverse effects of price-fixing: East Africa recognises drawbacks

It is not really news, but worth mentioning as it is literally happening simultaneously: As the most developed antitrust enforcement jurisdiction in Africa, South Africa, charges ahead with heavy-handed actions, such as denying alleged currency manipulators “access to file” in the investigative process, or accusing two livestock-feed processors of colluding in the sales and pricing of animal feed ‘peel pulp’, the East African nations lag behind.

What is news, however, is that they have begun to recognise the shortcoming and the adverse effects of collusion and other anti-competitive conduct on their economies: Andreas Stargard, an antitrust lawyer with Primerio Ltd., notes that the head of the East African Community (EAC), Mr. Liberat Mfumukeko, recently addressed ongoing antitrust violations in the EAC: “The Secretary denounced anti-competitive practices (cartels and the like) as serious obstacles to obtaining foreign direct investment in the region.  Moreover, he recognised the violations as ‘impeding effective competition’ and thereby directly hurting African consumers,” says Stargard.

Mr Mfumukeko is quoted as stating: “The EAC markets pose challenges to investors and consumers including the charging of high prices arising from anti-competitive practices such as cartels. These practices impede effective competition in the markets.”

Within the EAC, Stargard notes, the primary jurisdictions with operational antitrust regimes are Kenya and Tanzania, with others such as Uganda lagging behind even farther, having no competition legislation or only having draft bills under review.  Most other nations lag behind, although, as Mr. Stargard observes, many are part of the broader COMESA competition regime.  “The COMESA rules, however, have thus far been enforced with a primary objective of merger regulation,” he says, “effectively failing to police any collusive conduct in the close to two dozen member states at all, despite the explicit prohibition thereof in the COMESA regulations.”

EAC expands to accept 6th member in accession of S. Sudan

Landlocked and Oil-Rich South Sudan Joins Free-Trade Zone

As South Sudan was officially admitted to the East African Community (EAC) as its sixth member in Arusha (Tanzania), on Wednesday, March 2, the beleaguered nation joined a free-trade zone that will allow it to benefit from more open labour movement, less restrictions on capital flows and other increased economic integration.  The other member states are Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda.  After integration with S. Sudan — the youngest nation on Earth — the region will have a population of an estimated 163 million.

John Oxenham, of Pr1merio Africa advisors, says: “South Sudan’s former institutional weaknesses were (apparently, despite the ongoing civil strife in the country) sufficiently remedied that the EAC governing body saw fit to grant the application for admission that had been pending since 2011.  Basic governance principles must be met for EAC membership, and we are not even talking competition-law here…”

As the EAC charter provides, all members must demonstrate and strive to achieve “good governance including adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, accountability, transparency, social justice, equal opportunities, gender equality, as well as the recognition, promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”  (EAC Treaty, Chapter 2 Article 6 (d)).

 

Setting aside civil-rights concerns or worries about political instability, the integration of an oil-rich nation may ultimately benefit its neighbouring fellow EAC members, such as Kenya and Uganda.  It remains to be seen whether integrating a less-than-stable country into the EAC zone will harm the competition legislation the region enacted in 2006.  As AAT author Elizabeth Sisenda pointed out recently, the organisation “has been setting up the mechanisms for its enforcement to-date through capacity building and mobilizing resources. In 2010, the EAC subsequently enacted competition regulations to assist in implementing the Act. One of the main challenges that has been encountered in the EAC with regards to the implementation of competition law and policy has been the unique economic and market structure of the member states.  The majority of the EAC member states are economies that are transitioning from state-regulation to liberalization.”

We note that S. Sudan’s northern neighbour, the Republic of [the] Sudan, is currently a COMESA member state and thereby subject to the COMESA competition-law regulations and related merger-notification regime.  South Sudan has, since at least the 2012 talks in Uganda, likewise been in negotiations with the COMESA governing bodies to discuss accession to that free-trade zone.

The Big Picture (AAT): East Africa & Antitrust Enforcement

AAT the big picture

East-Africa & Antitrust: Enforcement of EAC Competition Act

By AAT guest author, Anne Brigot-Laperrousaz.

Introduction: Back in 2006…

The East African Community (the “EAC”) Competition Act of 2006 (the “Act”) was published in the EAC Gazette in September 2007. The Act was taken as a regulatory response to the intensification of competition resulting from the Customs Union entered into in 2005. This was the first of the four-step approach towards strengthening relations between member States, as stated in Article 5(1) of the Treaty Establishing the EAC.

Challenges facing the EAC

As John Oxenham, an Africa practitioner with advisory firm Pr1merio, notes, “10 years have passed since the adoption of the EAC Act, yet it remains unclear when (and if) the EAC will develop a fully functional competition law regime.”

The EAC Competition Authority (the “Authority”) was intended to be set up by July 2015, after confirmation of the member States’ nominees for the posts of commissioners. Unfortunately Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi failed to submit names of nominees for the positions available, and the process has become somewhat idle, leaving questions open as to future developments.

The main challenges facing the EAC identified by the EAC’s Secretariat is firstly, the implementation of national competition regulatory frameworks in all member States; and secondly, the enhancement of public awareness and political will[1].

The first undertaking was the adoption of competition laws and the establishment of competition institutions at a national level, by all member states, on which the sound functioning of the EAC competition structure largely relies.

Apart from Uganda, all EAC member States have enacted a competition act, although with important discrepancies as to their level of implementation at a national level.

The second aspect of the EAC competition project is the setting up of the regional Competition Authority, which was to be ensured and funded by all members of the EAC, under the supervision of the EAC Secretariat. Although an interim structure has been approved by member States, the final measures appear to be at a deadlock.

As mentioned, the nomination of the commissioners and finalisation of the setting up of the EAC Competition Authority came to a dead-end in July 2015, despite the $701,530 was set aside in the financial budget to ensure the viability of the institution[2]. It is widely considered, however, that this amount is still insufficient to ensure the functionality of the Competition Authority.  Andreas Stargard, also with Pr1merio, points out that “[t]he EAC has been said to be drafting amendments to its thus-far essentially dormant Competition Act to address antitrust concerns in the region.  However, this has not come to fruition and work on developing the EAC’s competition authority into a stable body has been surpassed by its de facto competitor, the COMESA Competition Commission.”

Furthermore, inconsistencies among national competition regimes within the EAC are an important impediment to the installation of a harmonised regional enforcement. Finally, international reviews as well as national doctrine and practice commentaries have highlighted the lack public sensitization and political will to conduct this project.

A further consideration, as pointed out by Wang’ombe Kariuki, Director-General of the Competition Authority of Kenya, is the challenge posed by the existence of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (“COMESA”).

Conclusion

The implementation of the EAC has not seen much progress since its enactment, despite its important potential and necessity[3]. It therefore remains to be seen how the EAC deals with the various challenges and whether it will ever become a fully functional competition agency.

A quick summation of the status of the national laws of the various EAC members can be seen below. For further and more comprehensive assessments of the various member states competition law regimes please see African Antitrust for more articles dealing with the latest developments.

EAC Member States Status

Tanzania

The Tanzanian Fair Competition Act (the “FCA”) was enacted in 2003, along with the institution of a Commission and Tribunal responsible for its enforcement. The FCA became operational in 2005. Tanzania’s competition regime was analysed within the ambit of an UNCTAD voluntary peer review in 2012[4]. The UNCTAD concluded that Tanzania had overall “put in place a sound legal and institutional framework”, containing “some of the international best practices and standards”.

This report, however, triggered discussions on major potential changes to the FCA, which would impact, in particular, institutional weaknesses and agency effectiveness[5]. One of the most radical changes announced consisted in the introduction of criminal sanctions against shareholders, directors and officers of a firm engaged in cartel conduct[6], although there is no sign that this reform will be adopted.

Kenya

Kenya, following a 2002 OECD report[7] and the European Union competition regulation model, replaced its former legislation with the 2010 Competition Act, which came into force in 2011, and established a Competition Authority and Tribunal. Under the UNCTAD framework, the 2015 assessment of the implementation of the recommendations made during a voluntary peer review conveyed in 2005[8] was generally positive. It was noted, however, that there was an important lack of co-operation between the Competition Authority and sectoral regulators, and that there was a need for clear merger control thresholds[9].

Burundi

Burundi adopted a Competition Act in 2010, which established the Competition Commission as the independent competition regulator. To date, the Act has not yet been implemented, and accordingly no competition agency is in operation[10].

A 2014 study led by the Burundian Consumers Association (Association Burundaise des Consommateurs, “Abuco”) (which was confirmed by the Ministry of Trade representative) pointed to the lack of an operating budget as one of the main obstacles to the pursuit of the project[11].

Rwanda and Uganda

Rwanda enacted its Competition and Consumer Protection Law in 2012, and established the Competition and Consumer Protection Regulatory Body.

As for Uganda, to date no specific legal regime has been put in place in Uganda as regards competition matters, although projects have been submitted to Uganda’s cabinet and Parliament, in particular a Competition Bill issued by the Uganda Law Reform Commission, so far unsuccessfully.

 

Footnotes:

[1] A Mutabingwa “Should EAC regulate competition?” (2010), East African Community Secretariat

[2] C Ligami, “EAC to set up authority to push for free, fair trade” (2015), The EastAfrican

[3] O Kiishweko, “Tanzania : Dar Praised for Fair Business Environment” (2015), Tanzania Daily News

[4] UNCTAD “ Voluntary Peer Review on competition policy: United Republic of Tanzania” (2012), UNCTAD/DITC/CLP/2012/1

[5] S Ndikimi, “The future of fair competition in Tanzania” (2013), East African Law Chambers

[6] O Kiishweko, “Tanzania: Fair Competition Act for Review’ (2012), Tanzania Daily News.

[7] OECD Global Forum on Competition, Contribution from Kenya, “ Kenya’s experience of and needs for capacity building/technical assistance in competition law an policy “ (2002), Paper n°CCNM/GF/COMP/WD(2002)7

[8] UNCTAD, “ Voluntary Peer Review on competition policy: Kenya” (2005), UNCTAD/DITC/CLP/2005/6

[9] MM de Fays, “ UNCTAD peer review mechanism for competition law : 10 years of existence – A comparative analysis of the implementation of the Peer Review’s recommendations across several assessed countries” (2015)

[10] Burundi Investment Promotion Authority “Burundi at a Glance – Legal and political structure”, http://www.investburundi.com/en/legal-structure

[11] Africa Time, “Loi sur la concurrence : 4 ans après, elle n’est pas encore appliquée” (Competition Law : 4 years after, it is still not implemented) (2014), http://fr.africatime.com/burundi/articles/loi-sur-la-concurrence-4-ans-apres-elle-nest-pas-encore-appliquee

Proliferation of active multi-nation competition regimes continues

6-member East African Community (EAC) to finalise competition law amendments

The EAC, a regional intergovernmental organisation comprising Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan, is said to be drafting amendments to its thus-far essentially dormant regional fair Competition Act (dating back to 2006, EAC Competition Act 2006, 49 sections) to address antitrust concerns in the region.  The EAC’s legislative body is in the final stages of completing its work on the East African Community Competition (Amendment) Bill (2015).

In a 2010 paper, Alloys Mutabingwa (then Deputy Secretary General of the EAC Community Secretariat) writes:

As the EAC begins the implementation of the Common Market, one is pushed to wonder, which kind of competition do we currently have in the East African Community? Is it the kind of competition that constantly pushes companies to innovate and reduce prices? Does it increase the choice of products and services available to EAC consumers? Or, is it the type of competition that is defined by companies colluding to highjack the market? The answer lies somewhere in the middle but one thing is certain, with the intensification of competition in the EAC there will be frictions between companies across the region as they seek to gain advantage over their competitors.

In this short and worthwhile read, he stresses the importance of having a multi-national competition framework vs. a purely domestic network of independent enforcers.  Mr. Mutabingwa uses the example of the merger case of East African Breweries and South African Breweries, in which the Kenyan and Tanzanian competition authorities were “allowed by law to handle national practices only.”

According to an October 2014 article, “statistics show that the EAC’s total intra-regional trade soared from $2 billion in 2005 to $5.8 billion in 2012, while the total intra-regional exports grew from $500 million to $3.2 billion in the period under review.”  The  piece quotes an EAC competition official as saying that the enforcement agency would be online by December 2014.

In addition to the EAC efforts, a report also states that the head of economic affairs of the Tanzanian Fair Competition Tribunal (FCT), Nzinyangwa Mchany, recently emphasised the importance of member-state level enforcement, such as that of the country’s FCT and FCC, “to increase efficiency in the production, distribution and supply of goods and services to Tanzanians,” especially in economies that were centrally planned until only a few decades ago, and which have had to struggle with the ill after-effects of unregulated trade liberalisation and privatisation of state-owned enterprises.

COMESA antitrust authority swears in 4 new commissioners

COMESA out of service

Four new Commissioners sworn in – while COMESA’s own site fails to make announcement

We do not commonly report on news from the Seychelles here on AAT, but today, the Office of the President of the Seychelles has in fact beat AAT (as well as the COMESA Competition Commission itself (!)) to it: as the Office reports, the 18th COMESA Summit, held on 30th March 2015 in Addis Ababa, (a city that I have fallen in love with, by the way), saw the swearing-in of four new COMESA Competition Commissioners.

The summit also saw the swearing in of Mr. George Tirant, Chief Executive Officer of the Seychelles Fair Trading Commission. Mr. Tirant was appointed as a commissioner on the COMESA Competition Commission, alongside representatives from Egypt, Uganda and Ethiopia.

We have not yet identified the other new members that were sworn in this week, but in admitting so we note in the same breath that it is surprising for the authority itself not to have this relevant item anywhere on its site, neither in the News category nor anywhere else.  Indeed, the reader looks in vain for even a cursory Press Release announcing that 4 new Commissioners were seated for a new term of 3 years each. COMESA’s site still shows the outdated list of its Commissioners (copied below the photo below).

Irregular?  Perhaps.  But then again, we are used to outages and unfortunately much worse from the COMESA Competition Commission web site.

AAT notes that, in addition to the four new competition commissioners, the 19-country IGO also welcomed new:

  • Judge President and Judges of the Appellate Division of the COMESA Court of Justice
  • Principal Judge and Judges of the First Instance Division of the COMESA Court of Justice
  • the COMESA Committee of Elders
COMESA's 18th Summit in Ethiopia

COMESA’s 18th Summit in Ethiopia

[Outdated] List of Commissioners from Comp Comm web site:

  1. Commissioner Alexander Juvensio Kububa : Chairperson of the Board of Commissioners and former Chief Executive Officer of the Competition and Tariff Commission of Zimbabwe.
  2. Commissioner Mathews Chikankheni: Vice Chairperson of the Board of Commissioner and President of the Malawi Confederation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
  3. Commissioner Ali Mohamed Afkada: Inspector General des Services Judiciarisés’ de Djibouti.
  4. Commissioner Daniel Phillip Gappy – Former Chief Executive Officer of Fair Trading Commission of Seychelles and Chief Executive Officer of Seychelles Licensing Authority.
  5. Commissioner Rajeev Hasnah: former Deputy Director of Competition Commission of Mauritius.
  6. Commissioner Francis Kariuki: Director General of Competition Authority of Kenya.Commissioner Rajeev Hasnah:  Chief Economist and Deputy Executive Director of the Competition Commission of Mauritius.
  7. Commissioner Thabisile Pearl Langa’: Chief Executive Officer of Swaziland Competition Commission.
  8.  Commissioner Rostom Omar: Former Legal Counselor of Egyptian Competition Commission.
  9. Commissioner Chilufya Sampa: Chief Executive Officer of Competition Commission of Zambia

COMESA merger stats: January ’14 outperforms first 6 months of 2013

COMESA Competition Commission logo
Three merger notifications in one month set new record for COMESA Competition Commission.

After commenting on the rather lackluster statistics of the first 11 months A.D. 2013, we observed that some deal-making parties might be “flying under the radar” and asked the question:

Combine Point 4 above (low filing statistics) with the zero-threshold and low nexus requirements that trigger a COMESA merger notification, and the following question inevitably comes to mind: With such low thresholds, and the certain existence of commercial deal activity going on in the COMESA zone, why are there so few notifications?

Well, the young agency’s stats have picked up some steam in 2014, it would seem: based on a review of its online document repository, the CC has received a whopping three notifications in January alone.  They are, in chronological order:

  1. Mail & courier services: FedEx / SupaSwift – a transaction involving the acquisition of a South African courier with operations in multiple COMESA member states, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zambia.
  2. Agricultural distribution and financial services: AgriGroupe / AFGRI Ltd. – Mauritian SPV AgriGroupe seems to be taking AFGRI (listed on the JSE) private.  The target has operations in multiple COMESA countries.
  3. Generic pharmaceuticals: CFR Inversiones SPA / Adcock Ingram Holdings Ltd. – Chilean CFR is buying all of South African off-patent pharmaceuticals manufacturer Adcock’s shares. Notably, the buyer has no COMESA activities; target is active in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
(c) AAT

Merger notification stats for COMESA as of Feb. 2014

Take-aways:

  • Activity has increased dramatically.  Is it a coincidence & a statistically irrelevant blip on the radar screen?  This remains to be seen. The parties are – unlike last year’s – not “repeat parties” and therefore the increase in notifications seems to be natural/organic growth, if you will, rather than a case of the same bear falling into the same honey-trap multiple times…
  • The Competition Commission has listened to its critics (including this blog). Notably, the CC now clearly identifies the affected member-state jurisdictions in the published notice – a commendable practice that it did not follow in all previous instances, and which AAT welcomes.

Post-scriptum: Adding up the total 2013 tally of notifications, the Tractor & Grader Supplies Ltd / Torre Industrial Holdings transaction (notified after our prior statistics post in November 2013) brought the sum-total of COMESA merger filings to 11 for FY2013.

Ugandan telecoms merger may test COMESA regime

COMESA old flag colorUganda

The announced merger between Warid Telecom and Airtel in Uganda (a COMESA member state) may become an interesting test case for the COMESA Competition Commission‘s merger-notification regime.  At least we here at AfricanAntitrust.com think so.

Not only does this deal present the opportunity for outsiders to watch whether, and if so, when the parties will notify the transaction to the CCC (the thresholds and conditions to notifiability are almost certainly met, given the pan-African activities of Bharti, Airtel’s Indian parent company) — it also may raise substantive concerns from a competition-law and merger-enforcement perspective, in light of the fact that the reported fusion of the #2 and #3 players in the Ugandan mobile telecoms market would result in a de facto 3-to-2 merger.

It will also show how the Ugandan authorities deal with COMESA’s claim to supranational jurisdiction over transactions such as this.  (Kenya had not taken well to it previously, as we reported on this blog…)  That said, aside from any NCA (since there is none in Uganda…), the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has already backed the deal as apparently pro-competitive, as The Independent reports. The reasoning there seems to be that a stronger #2 player will present more competitive challenges to the #1, which is MTN Uganda. Not necessarily orthodox antitrust doctrine, but it also comes from a non-competition body, so there…