Uncategorized

Nigeria’s Foreign-to-Foreign Merger Control Regime

By Michael-James Currie and Camilla Johnson

Antitrust enforcement is on the rise across Africa. Many jurisdictions are developing competition authorities and endorsing legislation with the intention of controlling cartel conduct, abuse of dominance and anti-competitive mergers.

In February 2019, Nigeria developed their first competition law regime through the enactment of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (“FCCPA”), which largely mirrors the South African Competition Act. This legislation was welcomed by market players and consumers, as Nigeria, being the number one oil exporter in the continent, is a key regional player in West Africa.

Prior to the FCCPA, there was no dedicated merger control legislation regulating transactions between non-Nigerian entities that affected the control of a Nigerian business. Section 2(3)(d) of the FCCPA specifically extends the Act’s application to any conduct outside the country by any person through the acquisition of assets resulting in the change of control of a business, or part of a business or any asset of a business, in Nigeria. The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (“FCCPC”) went a step further in their merger control regime by issuing the Guidelines on the Simplified Process for Foreign-to-Foreign Mergers with a Nigerian Component (“the Guidelines”). They are the first of their kind in Africa.

The legal review of mergers is essential to ensuring competitive behaviour is not undermined, economic performance is promoted, and consumer welfare is protected. The Guidelines provide a succinct, informative glimpse into the requirements for a successful merger review by the FCCPC and are thus intended to incentivise foreign investment.

The FCCPC must be notified of a foreign merger if it meets one of the alternative thresholds provided in the Guidelines. If the parties have a combined turnover of at least NGN 1 billion (approximately USD 2.5 million), they meet the combined leg. The filing fee will be the higher of NGN 3 million or 0,1% of the combined turnover. If the target entity has turnover of at least NGN 500 million (approximately USD 1.2 million), they meet the target leg and the filing fee will be NGN 2 million. A foreign-to-foreign merger could trigger either leg of the threshold. While the Guidelines do not expressly prescribe a “local nexus” test, a transaction which has an impact on the Nigerian economy will trigger the nexus.

Through the review procedure, the FCCPC seeks to uncover whether the proposed merger will activate anti-competitive or competitive behaviour in the Nigerian market. This is executed by considering whether the merger will substantially lessen or prevent competition in the market, or whether the merger would offset the negative effect on competition by producing technological contributions to the economy. A merger will also be justified if it substantially benefits the public interest, for example if domestic entities are able to compete in the international market, or employment opportunities are elevated. These are the tests against which the FCCPC will assess the proposed merger.

In the interest of transactional efficiency, the Guidelines introduced an expedited process for foreign-to-foreign mergers. The FCCPC will conduct a simplified review procedure, which results in a decision being issued within 15 business days. This will circumvent the typically lengthy review period, but at an additional cost of NGN 5 million (approximately USD 12 000).

While the documentation required is generally less cumbersome than what woudl ordinarily be required, parties must provide sufficient information to the FCCPC so as to enable the authority to confidently conclude that the transaction is unlikely to raise any competition concerns.

Parties must submit a description of the merger in the form of a non-confidential summary that will be published by the Commission, an executive summary and an explanation why the merger qualifies for simplified treatment. Detailed information relating to the merging parties and nature of the parties’ business is required, as well as the nature and details of the merger. Here the parties must describe the economic rationale of the merger as it affects Nigerian markets and the value of the transaction. Information on the turnover in Nigeria in the last financial year must be submitted for each of the undertakings concerned. With regards to supporting documentation, copies of the most recent documents relevant to the merger and an indication of the online location where the most recent and relevant financial information is available, is required.

The FCCPC requires market definitions in the form of a product and a geographical study, as well as a description of the local market activities to be provided, in order to ascertain the scope of the market power resulting from the merger. This includes an estimate of the total size of the market and expected sales (in terms of value and volume), and the nature of existing horizontal and vertical relationships with the prospective mergers’ five largest competitors.

[Michael-James Currie is a director at Primerio, Africa’s first boutique law firm dedicated to competition law practice across the African continent. He can be contacted at m.currie@primerio.international]

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AAT, AAT exclusive, excessive pricing, South Africa, Uncategorized

South Africa’s Second Price Gouging Case: Dis-Chem Penalised For Excessive Pricing re Face Masks

By Michael-James Currie and John Oxenham

On 14 July 2020, the South African Competition Tribunal published its written reasons in relation to its decision to penalize Dis-Chem (a large pharmaceutical chain in South Africa) for contravening section 8(1)(a) of the Competition Act by charging excessive prices for a variety of surgical face-mask products.

The Tribunal’ latest price gouging decision follows closely on the heels of the Tribunal’s decision in Babelegi, which was the first decision price gouging decision in South Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic (in terms of which the Tribunal also imposed a penalty on Babelegi based on a finding that Babelegi charged excessive prices for face masks during the pandemic). Babelegi was a firm which -pre-Covid 19 had a market share of less than 5%.

Turning to the Dis-Chem case, the price increases at play for three different face-masks were 261%, 43% and 25% respectively, on 9 March 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic gripped South Africa, but before the Minister of Trade and Industry published the commonly referred to ‘Price Gouging Regulations’ (Regulations). The Regulations, promulgated, on 19 March 2020, essentially place a reverse onus on dominant firms (in relation to a defined list of “essential goods”) to demonstrate why any price increases post the proclamation of the Regulations, which were not directly and proportionally linked to a corresponding cost increase, are not “excessive”.

Although the Competition Commission (SACC) had initially framed its case in terms of the Regulations, the Tribunal confirmed that the Regulations did not apply retroactively. Accordingly, the Tribunal proceeded to analysis the complaint in terms of section 8(1)(a) of the Act read together with the factors set out in section 8(3) of the Act in order to determine whether a price is excessive. This is noteworthy as the principles underpinning the Dis-Chem decision are applicable regardless of whether the Regulations are, or remain in, force and may well apply to cases beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.

In terms of the recently amended Competition Act, an “excessive price” is defined as a price which has “no reasonable relation to the economic value of the product”. If there is a prima facie case of excessive pricing, the onus shifts to the respondent to demonstrate that the price is not excessive.

The Tribunal held that in order to demonstrate an “excessive price”, what the complainant must show is a price which “on the face of it was utterly exorbitant”. The respondent would then need to show that the increase was reasonable.

The crux of the case, however, largely turns on whether Dis-Chem is in fact considered “dominant”. Dominance, generally, is determined with reference to whether a firm is able to exert a substantial degree of “market power”. In terms of South Africa’s Competition Act, a firm is irrebuttably presumed to be dominant if it has market shares in excess of 45%. A firm can still be found to be dominant, however, with market shares less than 45% if it can be established that the firm is able to exert “market power”. “Market power” is specifically defined in the Act as “the power of a firm to control prices or to exclude competition, or to behave to an appreciable extent independently of its competitors, customers or suppliers”.

The Commission argued that defining the relevant market was not necessary. Rather, the fact that Dis-Chem was able to materially increase its prices in the context of a global health crisis independently of its competitors, customers or suppliers, meant that Dis-Chem was able to exert “market power” and was therefore “dominant”.

The Tribunal confirmed that the assessment of “market power” may be conducted with reference to the prevailing market conditions without having to specifically define the market. In essence, the Tribunal asked itself what advantages the global-health crisis conferred to the respondent (in this case Dis-Chem) that it would not enjoy absent the crisis?

At the time of the relevant price increase, the public were encouraged to wear surgical face-masks. The Tribunal rejected, therefore the argument raised by Dis-Chem that cloth face-masks are a suitable substitute. Dis-Chem had argued that barriers to entry were low as face-masks where easy to produce from a supply-side. The product market was broadly defined as the market for surgical face masks.

Turning to the geographic market definition, the Tribunal suggested that the geographic market must be narrowed (based on customers reluctance to travel far during the pandemic) despite Dis-Chem applying a national pricing strategy. The Tribunal ultimately did not define the geographic market. Instead, its assessment essentially refers back to that relating to the tests for market power. In essence, the Tribunal held that because there were concerns among consumers about supply shortages, consumers would not be prepared to “shop around” for better options fearing they may miss out altogether. The Tribunal mentioned that applying the well known “hypothetical monopolist test”, that Dis-Chem would have been able to profitably raise its prices by more than 5% and, therefore, was essentially in its own market (the Tribunal did not define the precise geographic boundaries of the market even though these was evidence put up suggesting that there were many suppliers of surgical face masks within a very small geographic radius of Dis-Chem’s largest outlets). Accordingly, this case was not determined by narrowing the geographic market.

Turning to the economic tests utilized or considered by the Tribunal, the following is summarized:

  1. The relevant “benchmark” price used was the price immediately before the Covid-19 pandemic compared to the prices thereafter.
  2. The relevant complaint period was held to be 1-31 March 2020.
  3. That the empirical evidence assessed pointed to an increase in prices in March (compared to prices prevailing in January and February) without a direct link to cost increases. Consequently, the Tribunal found that the gross-margins increased “exponentially” during the complaint period.
  4. The Tribunal rejected the argument that for multi-product retailers, profit margins ought to be assessed with reference to “net” as opposed to “gross” margins. In other words, the Tribunal precluded any cross-subsidization type defences.

The Tribunal found that had it not been for the surge demand for surgical face-masks as a result of the health crisis posed by Covid-19, Dis-Chem would not have been able to increase the prices to the extent it did. Further, the Tribunal found Dis-Chem enjoyed and exerted market power by substantially increasing its prices and profit margins for face-masks and therefore the SACC had established a prima facie case of excessive pricing which shifted the burden of proof to Dis-Chem to show its price increases were “reasonable”.

In determining whether a price increase is “reasonable”, the Tribunal appears to disfavour any economic assessment to the inquiry. Instead the Tribunal suggests that any price increase (presumably irrespective of the percentage increment) in relation to an item essential for the public’s health is unreasonable. Following the Tribunal’s earlier finding that the price increases were substantial, the Tribunal held that Dis-Chem’s price increases during the pandemic were “utterly unreasonable and reprehensible”.

As an aside, the Tribunal suggests that the price increase of any good in South Africa between 47%-261% would affect the public interest adversely. In the context of a health crisis where those increases related to essential goods, the price increase has a particular impact on poor customers.

Accordingly, the Tribunal found that Dis-Chem had engaged in excessive pricing in contravention of the Act and imposed a penalty of R1.2 million (which was calculated based on approximately twice the turnover which Dis-Chem derived from face-masks during the complaint period).

The Tribunal’s decision in Dis-Chem provides more analysis and considerations to market definition than the case of Babelegi although the central features and findings in both cases are the same. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, both Dis-Chem and Babelegi charged higher prices to consumer in relation to products considered essential to the health and well-being of the public and because these price increase were nor justified with reference to cost increases, the prices were considered “excessive”.

The Tribunal (as part of its assessment under the geographic market definition analysis) provides an important qualifier to intervening in matters arising from short-term market conditions. In particular, the Tribunal stated that “material price increases of life essential items such as surgical masks, even in the short run, in a health disaster such as the Covid-19 outbreak, warrants our intervention”. This is an important caveat as the Tribunal appears to recognize that intervening in competition law matters based on short term market conditions may have unintended consequences and that ordinarily competition authorities should allow the market to “self-regulate”.

While opportunistic and exploitative behaviour during a time of crisis may indeed warrant scrutiny, one does question whether these decisions fall into the classic “hard cases make bad law” dictum coined by US Supreme Court Justice, OW Holmes.

Different standards of law and economics should not apply to firms simply based on the type of product that they produce or sell. To punish a firm because it supplies essential healthcare products may indeed be a noble public interest objective, but caution must be had to using mechanisms such as the Competition Act to achieve these outcomes if the economic principles and justifications do not stack up.

While the Tribunal was at pains to point out in Dis-Chem that context matters, it is less clear precisely what context matters in excessive pricing cases going forward. Are the market dynamics due to the Covid-19 pandemic an outlier unlikely to repeat itself in history and that the Tribunal’s recent price gouging decisions should be assessed in that context? Or, does the Tribunal’s decision effectively mean that any firm who is able to profitably increase a price by 5% has market power (and is, therefore, dominant) and, therefore, any such price increase (unless linked proportionately to a cost increase) is prima facie excessive? When will the Tribunal intervene in excessive price cases and when will it allow the normal forces of supply and demand and the hallmark features of a dynamic competition to rectify any market abnormalities?

While the Tribunal suggests that a 47% increase and above would be excessive for “any good” in South Africa, the Tribunal does not provide much guidance on where to the draw the line. The Tribunal rejected the US’s guidance which refers to a 10% increase (in the context of a price increase of an essential good). Previously the Competition Appeal Court in the Sasol judgment suggested (without setting a firm benchmark) that a price which is less than 25% more than the economic value of the product cannot be said to be excessive.

While the Tribunal does make cursory mention of the prices of other competitors, the Tribunal seems to err in one important regard. Excessive price cases and indeed the assessment of market power should not be conducted with reference to the overall demand shock in the market but with reference to the firm’s ability to act independently of other competitors in the same prevailing market conditions. A comparison therefore between pre-market shock and post-market shock insofar as the shock applies to the whole market, is somewhat irrelevant.

If the overall demand for face-masks increased and all face-mask suppliers are able to profitably increase their prices for face-masks during the relevant period, it can hardly be said that every face-mask supplier is “dominant” during that period. If all ice-cream suppliers raise their prices in summer versus winter that would clearly not be a result of ice-cream suppliers having market power during the summer months only. The Tribunal’s analysis in Dis-Chem does not seem to answer this issue and in fact lends credence to such an outcome which would clearly not be supported by any credible economic justification.

The Tribunal does not deal with another important aspect relating to principles of supply and demand more generally. The Tribunal recognizes that there were (and are) a shortage of supply for face-masks. It was the shortage of supply (be it actual or potential) which in fact led to “panic buying” and higher demand and therefore higher prices. To suggest that the poorest customers are most likely to be harmed due to price increases following demand shocks is correct. However, all customers (including the poorest) are likely to be harmed if the supply shortage cannot be addressed and is perpetuated by the on-going health crisis. The most sensible way to encourage entry into the supply side market for face-masks is to allow such firms to earn short term profits which it would not otherwise enjoy. Without the upside incentive, new entry into the supply side market is unlikely and the only disciplining safeguard left in the market is quasi-price regulation by the competition authorities. The forces of competition in such instances are, therefore, precluded from being allowed to operate to restore the market to competitive levels. The Tribunal, however, recognizes in the Dis-Chem decision that in certain instances it should in fact play the role of a price regulator.

So where does that leave us? Firstly, it seems very likely that the Dis-Chem decision will be taken on appeal. Until such time as the Tribunal’s decision is altered (if at all), firms selling goods which are considered “essential” in the fight against Covid-19 should take particular cognizance of this decision. Secondly, the price gouging regulations published by the Minister are essentially rendered nugatory by the Tribunal’s approach to excessive pricing cases. Thirdly, regardless of the size of the firm pre-Covid, if a firm is able to increase its prices unilaterally as a result of a demand shock following the Covid health, there is a significant risk that the Tribunal will consider such a firm to possess market power and hence unless such price increase is justified with reference to cost increases, potentially liable to an administrative penalty (and possibly follow-on civil damages).

[About the Authors: John Oxenham and Michael-James Currie are practicing competition law attorneys based in South Africa and advise clients on competition law related matters across most African jurisdictions]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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AAT exclusive, Access to Information, dominance, exemptions, South Africa, Uncategorized

Enforcement Alert: SACC ordered to remedy its complaint referral in 2nd CompuTicket abuse-of-dominance case

By Charl van der Merwe, assisted by Christine Turkington & Gina Lodolo

The South African competition Commission (SACC) has suffered yet another procedural setback- related to the facts pleaded in its referral affidavit – this time, in its ongoing saga with Computicket and Shoprite Checkers, apropos Computicket’s alleged abuse of dominance.

In its initial case against Computicket, which ultimately went to the Competition Appeal Court, SACC succeeded in holding Computicket to account for abuse of dominance in contravention of section 8(d)(i) of the Competition Act (Computicket One). Computicket One was based on the fact that Computicket had entered into exclusive agreements with customers which had the effect of excluding competitors from the market. See exclusive AAT article on Computicket One case here.

The SACC was critical of the conduct of Shoprite Checkers as, in Computicket One, the SACC alleged that the exclusive agreements were entered into between Computicket and Shoprite Checkers shortly after the Computicket was acquired by Shoprite Checkers. Computicket One was based on the agreement entered into for the period 2005 to 2010.

Accordingly and shortly after the conclusion of Computicket One, the SACC referred a second complaint against Computicket for abuse of dominance. The cause of action is substantively similar as that which had been found to be a contravention in Computicket One, however, this time based on the agreements entered into from January 2013 and which are alleged to be ongoing (Computicket Two). In Computicket Two, however, the SACC now seeks to hold Shoprite Checkers jointly and severally liable with Computicket in its capacity as the ultimate parent company of Computicket. Moreover, the SACC appears to seek the imposition of a penalty based on the higher turnover of Shoprite Checkers.

Note that Computicket Two was referred to the Tribunal prior to the enactment of the Competition Amendment Act, which provides for parent companies to be held jointly and severally liable for the conduct of subsidiaries and/or allows for the calculation of an administrative penalty, based on the turnover of the parent company where the parent was aware or ought to have been aware of the conduct of the subsidiary.

The Tribunal, therefore, found the SACC’s referral affidavit to be flawed and lacking of the facts (and points of law) necessary to sustain a cause of action, particularly in so far as it seeks to hold Shoprite Checkers liable. In this regard, the Tribunal expressly held that they view Computicket and Shoprite Checkers as separate economic entities and should thus be treated separately with respect to the allegations made in the Commission’s complaint referral.

The Tribunal went on the emphasize that on the consideration of dominance (which is the statutory first step to an assessment under section 8), “… the Commission conceded that Shoprite Checkers is not active in the market for outsourced ticketing services to inventory providers in which Computicket is active. Unsurprisingly, no market shares attributable to Shoprite Checkers are reflected anywhere in the Commission’s referral. It is simply unclear of what we are to make of the allegations against Shoprite Checkers.”

In order to correct these defects and instead of dismissing SACC’s case, the Tribunal ordered the SACC to file a supplementary affidavit. The Tribunal held that “[g]iven that the Commission’s reliance on the single economic entity doctrine fails and the question of dominance is abundantly opaque, the Commission must rectify its referral to properly reflect and clarify the case against Shoprite Checkers in order for it to meet the case put against it.”

Should the SACC fail to file its supplementary affidavit, within the 30 business days, as order by the Tribunal, Shoprite Checkers and Computicket may approach the Tribunal for an order that the case be dismissed.

John Oxenham, director of Primerio, notes that the Tribunal’s order in allowing the SACC an opportunity to first supplement or amend its referral affidavit is in line with the recent orders of both the Tribunal and Competition Appeal Court to first allow such opportunity for the SACC to remedy its case, instead of ordering an outright dismissal of the case on an interlocutory basis. This is likely to form the precedent for interlocutory applications, even where the facts suggest that the SACC’s case is opportunistic and incapable of being remedied.

According to competition lawyer, Michael-James Currie, the recent orders which have come out of the Tribunal and Competition Appeal Court in interlocutory applications will hopefully have a positive effect on the manner in which cases are referred and prosecuted in South Africa.

The SACC has at times demonstrated a tendency to be overly broad in its complaint referrals, causing respondent firms to engage in costly and time consuming internal investigations to assess the merits of such cases. With the development of the previously underutilized interlocutory processes, respondent firms are now able to, at an early stage of the litigation process, ensure that the SACC sets out its case in a concise manner, substantiated with the requisite factual allegations required to sustain its case, thereby avoiding the unnecessary cost of expansive internal investigations and protracted litigation.

 

 

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AAT, AAT exclusive, excessive pricing, South Africa, Uncategorized

South Africa Competition Tribunal: Regulations published to expedite COVID-19 excessive and unfair pricing complaint referrals

[The editors at AfricanAntitrust wish to thank Jemma Muller and Gina Lodolo for compiling this article]

On 3 April 2020, Minister Ebrahim Patel made amendments to section 27(2) of the Competition Act 89 of 1998 (“the Act”) with regards to the regulations pertaining to the functions of the Competition Tribunal (“the Tribunal”).

The amendment was enacted to regulate complaint referrals for alleged contravention of section 8(1)(a) of the Act which deals with the charging of excessive prices by a dominant firm. The amendment is crucial in light of the current state of affairs, where the charging of excessive prices has become more frequent during the Covid-19 outbreak. Accordingly, the amendment is only applicable for the duration of the period of the declaration of a Natural State of Disaster with regards to COVID-19.

An applicant who wishes to bring a complaint based on an alleged contravention of section 8(1)(a) of the Act, read with the Consumer and Customer Protection Regulations, must file a Notice of Motion and founding affidavit to the Tribunal.

Urgent complaint referral procedure

Who must file the complaint referral?

A complaint referral may be filed by the Commission or a complainant, as soon as possible after the commission has issued a notice of non-referral to that complainant.

Notice of motion requirements

An applicant must allege a contravention of section 8(1)(a), indicate the order sought against the respondent(s) and state the name and and address (electronic or otherwise) of each respondent in respect to whom the order is sought. Applicant’s may also state the date and time on which the applicant wishes the matter to be heard by the Tribunal.

Founding affidavit

The founding affidavit must set out the grounds of urgency and the material points of law and evidence that support the complaint. In addition, the applicant may include confirmatory affidavits from any factual or expert witnesses.

Procedure

The applicant must serve a copy of the Notice of Motion and founding affidavit on each of the respondent(s) named in the Notice of Motion and file a copy of the application with the Tribunal.

The important time periods:

A respondent must serve a copy of their Answering Affidavit on the complainant within 72 hours of service of the complaint referral. Thereafter the person who filed the Complaint referral may serve a copy for their Reply within 24 hours after being served with a copy of the Answering Affidavit.

The Tribunal will then determine the date and time for the hearing of the complaint referral (Tribunal Rules 6,16,17,18,18,47,54 and 55 apply to an application under this Rule unless they pertain to Rules which stipulate time-frames).

These documents may be filed electronically.

Urgent hearing

The Tribunal may direct that the urgent complaint proceedings in terms of the Rules may be conducted wholly as video or audio proceedings.

If no answering affidavit is filed within the period set out in the Notice of Motion or such extended period as may be determined by the Tribunal, the urgent complaint referral may be heard on an unopposed basis.

The Tribunal will determine if there was contravention of section 8(1)(a) of the Act based on the evidence contained in the affidavits unless there is a substantial dispute of fact which cannot be resolved by affidavits. In this case the Tribunal may determine an expedited procedure (which may include oral evidence on an expedited basis by way of video or audio proceedings). The Tribunal may also call for further evidence if it is required (subject to section 55 of the Act).

Remedies

The Tribunal may impose a pricing order if the respondent has been found to contravene section 8(1)(a) of the Act. The respondent may apply to appeal or review the decision on an urgent basis to the Competition Appeal Court (the pricing order will remain in force unless it is set aside by the court on appeal or review).

Consent order

The Commission may at any time (before, during and after and investigation) conclude a consent agreement for a complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Act and it will be the full and final settlement of the matter  (including settlement of civil proceedings). This consent order may be confirmed by the Tribunal without hearing any evidence.

The amended complaint referral procedures equip complainants with the means in which to assist the competition authorities in penalizing those who have used the prevailing circumstances to exploit consumers, and is thus a commendable and efficient tool invoked by the Minister.

 

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Corona, Uncategorized

CORONA AND COMPETITION LAW: MINISTER PATEL AT THE FOREFRONT IN FIGHT AGAINST COVID-19 IN SOUTH AFRICA

By Charl van der Merwe

Global markets are in turmoil and governments around the globe are under increased strain to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus whilst maintaining necessary services. A key concern in South Africa and elsewhere has been the availability of key supplies and the capacity of the health care and other infrastructure system to meet the unprecedented demand.

In order to alleviate these concerns, South African Minster of Trade and Industry and Competition (DTIC) has moved to publish Regulations in terms of Section 78 of the South African Competition Act 89 of 1998 (Competition Act):

  1. exempting industry players in certain sectors from prosecution for conduct in contravention of Sections 4 and 5 (Act) (Block Exemptions); and
  2. prohibiting excessive pricing (and ensuring sufficient supply) by firms selling key supplies (Pricing Regulations);

Traditionally, exemptions in terms of the Competition Act were granted through application to the Competition Commission, based on the specific grounds as defined in section 10 of the Competition Act. In terms of the Competition Amendment Act, application for a block exemption can also be made directly to the Minister.

Related to the exemption process in terms of the Competition Act, is the powers of the Minister to publish directions under the recent Regulations issued in terms of section 27 (2) of the Disaster Management Act (GN 318 of 18 March 2020). In this regard, Regulation 10(6) provides that the Minister may issue directions to:

  1. protect consumers from excessive, unfair, unreasonable or unjust pricing of goods and services during the national state of disaster; and
  2. maintain security and availability of the supply of goods and services during the national state of disaster.

Block Exemptions

Block Exemptions have been published by the Minster in terms of section 10(10) of the Competition Act which provides that the Minister may, after consultation with the Competition Commission (SACC), issue regulations in terms of section 78, exempting a category of agreements or practices from the application of sections 4 and 5 of the Competition Act.

As at the date of writing, Block Exemptions have been granted to the Healthcare Sector, the Banking Sector and Retail Property Sector.

Health Care Sector

The exemption include a range of industry players, including healthcare facilities, pharmacies, medical suppliers, medical specialist, pathologists and laboratories, and healthcare funders.

Exemptions are fairly novel in South African competition law, although the National Hospital Network (NHN) has for many years now operated under an Exemption in terms of which it is permitted to engage in collective bargaining, global fee negotiations and centralized procurement (The NHN is a non-profit co-operative venture that is controlled by its members, a group of independent private hospitals who run medical establishments such as day clinics, sub-acute facilities and psychiatric facilities). The Exemption was renewed by the SACC for a further 5 year period in November 2018.

The Block Exemption will similarly allow industry players to coordinate on procurement of supplies, transferring equipment and coordinating the use of staff. In effect, the Block Exemption extends and broadens the scope of the exemption enjoyed by the NHN to include state and private healthcare.

While this move is certainly a welcome one to ensure that South Africa is able to effectively deal with the spread of Covid-19, its effect on competition in this market will be most interesting. The health care sector, and particularly large private sector players (Private Health Care), has long been in the cross-hairs of the SACC, with many enforcement actions, heavily contested merger control proceedings and most recently, the market inquiry into the private healthcare sector conducted and concluded by the SACC. Concentration and Coordination has been key to the debate.

Allied to this and according to industry expert, Avias Ngwenya of Nortons Inc, these measures are effectively a forced trail run of the South African Government’s recently proposed and highly criticized National Health Insurance (NHI) which, he believes will test the ability of private healthcare to provide healthcare services to the state.

While the Exemptions will apply only for so long as the state of disaster remains in effect, the effects of these measures on the industry is likely to endure for some time and will reform the debate around the future of health care in South Africa.

Banking Sector

The Block Exemption published in favour of the Banking Sector is aimed at exempting category of agreements or practices between Banks, Banking Association of South Africa and/or Payments Association of South Africa from the application of sections 4 and 5 of the Act and promoting cooperation between these industry participants to mitigate damages and to ensure the effective continuance of banking infrastructure. In this regard, industry participants are to coordinate and agree on, inter alia:

  1. operation of payment systems and the continued availability of notes at ATMs, branches and businesses;
  2. debtor and credit management to cater for payment holidays and debt relief (including limitations on asset recovery and the extension of further credit terms).

Retail Property Sector

The Block Exemption in respect of the Retail Property Sector applies only to retail landlords and designated retail tenants (required to shut down in terms of the national shut down currently in place) and aims to provide a framework for cooperation between industry participants in respect of payment holidays and rental discounts and limitations on the eviction of tenants. The Block Exemptions also seek to cater for cooperation on limitations to the restrictions placed on tenants to protect their viability during the nation disaster, likely to allow tenants to alter of expand their product or service offerings to fall within the category of businesses or services exempt from the restrictions currently enforced by Government, thereby ensuring alternative income and increased capacity on key products and services.

The Block Exemptions in respect of the Banking and Retail Sectors provide welcome relief to small businesses who have been hard hit by the restrictions put in place both locally and internationally. This is a key object and concern of the government and, in particular the DTIC who have placed small and medium business at the centre of competition policy in an effort to ensure greater participation by historically disadvantaged individuals in South Africa. This has been evident through the amendments to the Competition Act and recent conditions which have been imposed on large international mergers. The DTIC is, therefore, intent to ensure that these efforts are not effectively nullified by the emergency measures put in place to prevent the spread of the Covid-19.

Block Exemptions have not been widely utilised in South Africa. To the extent that the measures introduced by the Block Exemptions are effectively implemented, however, the use and application of the process of exemptions under the Competition Act may become a more prominent feature of the South African competition law process. The nature of emergencies are such that they expedite the implementation of historical process which were otherwise untouched or contested as the counterfactual has changed.

It is already evident that more and more industries affected by the Covid-19 will apply for or be granted block exemptions to ensure that they are able to effectively avert the negative effects associated with disruptions caused to the business and economy. Examples of these include the Grocery Retail and/or Fast Moving Consumable Goods Sectors, Security Sector and more.

Price Regulation

The Pricing Regulations, most interestingly was published by the Minster in terms of the Combination of the Competition Act, the Consumer Protection Act 61 of 2008(2008) and the Disaster Management Act (2002) and apply only to the ‘key supplies identified in the Pricing Regulations and will remain in effect only for so long as Covid-19 remains a ‘national disaster’.

Section 8(3)(f) of the Competition Act provides that in determining whether a price is an excessive price (for purposes of section 8(1)),  it must be determined whether that price is higher than a competitive price and whether such difference is unreasonable, determined by taking into account any regulation published by the Minister in terms of Section 78.

Now, in terms of the Pricing Regulations a price will be considered an excessive price for purposes of Section 8(1) of the Competition Act where, during this period of national disaster, a price increase:

  1. does not correspond to or is not equivalent to the increase in the costs of providing that goods or service; or
  2. increases the net margin or mark-up on that good or service above the average margin or mark-up for that good or service in the three month period prior to 1 March 2020.

Notably, Section 8 applies only to dominant firms.

In addition to the above, the Pricing Regulations contain a similar assessment for the consideration of what is termed unconscionable, unfair, unreasonable and unjust price increases in the Consumer Protection Act. While it is likely that what constitutes an excessive price under the Competition Act will also constitute an unreasonable price increase for purposes of the Consumer Protection Act, the opposite may not be true. The Consumer Protection Act is enforced by a different authority in South Africa and case precedent has been quite limited, compared to the competition authorities.

The Pricing Regulations also cover quantities and the restrictions on sale to maintain equitable distribution and curb stockpiling. No mention is made of the Competition Act or Consumer Protection Act in these paragraphs, although they should also be considered in the broader context of competition policy and what the Pricing Regulations seek to achieve. Although South African competition policy is not ordinarily concerned with discrimination at the final consumer level, in terms of the Pricing Regulations, retailers are effectively required to ration the quantity sold, as the normal economic mechanism, whereby suppliers sell to those parts of the demand curve with a sufficient willingness to pay, is suspended.

The penalty provisions of the Pricing Regulations require prosecution in terms of the underling legislation, being the Competition Act and Consumer Protection Act respectively as these sanctions exceed the powers given to the Minister in the Disaster Management Act. The Pricing Regulations state that subject to the further specific provisions of the respective pieces of legislation, a failure to comply with the Pricing Regulations may attract a fine of up to R1 000 000 and/or a 10% of a firms turnover and imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months (depending on the applicable legislation). In terms of the Competition Act, only cartel conduct under section 4(1)(b) attracts criminal liability.

The Minister has recently announced that 11 firms are currently under investigation for allegedly contravening the provisions of the Competition Act and/or Consumer Protection Act in a manner prohibited by the Pricing Regulations.

While these rather drastic measures are necessary and the Minster and SACC should be commended for their swift action, the effects of these measures are set to leave a lasting impression on competition law and the precedent arising out of the investigations and subsequent referrals in terms of these Pricing Regulations.

The Disaster Management Act provides that the declaration of a national state of disaster can terminate after the expiry of 3 months or upon notice in the Government Gazette by the Minister before the expiry of 3 months. The Minister can nonetheless extend such a period for one month at a time. Accordingly, the Disaster Management Act offers little certainty on how and when the measures implemented will come to an end.

Temporary measures tend to have a nasty habit of outlasting emergencies.

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AAT, mergers, public-interest, Uncategorized

PepsiCo/Pioneer merger: Minister Patel approves the Deal

In one of the few megamergers of the 2019/2020 season, the South African Competition Tribunal approved, subject to a wide range of public interest related conditions, PepsiCo’s acquisition of South Africa’s largest FMCG producers, Pioneer Foods.

In predictable fashion, this was not the type of transaction which would escape the attention of Minister Patel (who oversees the portfolio of the competition agencies). Despite not being a transaction which raises any competition concerns (i.e. there being no substantive overlap in product portfolios) and no material public interest concerns, the merger was an acquisition by a major international producer, PepsiCo and Minister Patel has openly expressed his intention to involve himself in acquisitions by foreign firms in an effort to extract a “socio-economic” tax from the merging parties. This was first seen in the Massmart/Walmart deal in 2012 but more recently in the AB-InBev/SAB and SAB/Coca-Cola mergers.

Competition lawyer, Michael-James Currie points out that a noteworthy difference between the legislative environment in terms of which the PepsiCo/Pioneer merger was assessed are the amendments to South Africa’s Competition Act. Under the new merger regime, public interest standards have been elevated, as a test, so as to be on par with the traditional competition analysis. Furthermore, the public interest grounds which the competition authorities are mandated to take into account have been expanded and now specifically include ownership levels among historically disadvantaged persons (commonly referred to as BBBEE policies in South Africa – Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment).

The Competition Tribunal’s reasons are noteworthy. In a transaction of this magnitude, the Tribunal did not provide any reasons or findings as to the assessment of the merger. There was no analysis as to the relevant markets nor an assessment of the negative effects that the merger may have on the public interest factors.

The Tribunal’s reasons jump straight to the conditions ostensibly on the basis that the merging parties, the Competition Commission and Minister Patel had “agreed” to the conditions and, therefore, there was no reason to assess the transaction and the Tribunal could go ahead and rubber stamp the terms of the agreement.

Based on the majority of the conditions imposed, it is safe to assume that the transaction raised no material competition or public interest concerns. Notwithstanding that the transaction raised no adverse effects, the conditions imposed on the merger include:

  1. The creation of a BBBEE Workers Trust which will receive at least R1.6 billion (USD 10.6 million) in equity and the appointment of a non-executive director to the PepsiCo board together with voting rights of 12.9% in lieu of the equity for a period of 5 years;
  2. Employment:
    1. A moratorium on merger related retrenchments for a period of 5 years;
    2. An undertaking to maintain the aggregate levels of employment for 5 years; and
    3. An undertaking to create 500 direct new employment opportunities and 2500 indirect employment opportunities over the next five years.
  3. An undertaking to invest a cumulative amount of R5.5 billion (USD180 million) in production capacity over the next five years.
  4. Promote procurement from local suppliers and producers;
  5. Maintain all sales and distribution agreements currently in place for a period of two years;
  6. Contribute at least R600 million (USD60 million) to the creation of a development fund to be used for education, small medium enterprise development and agriculture programs.

Despite the substantial conditions imposed on the merger, Minister Patel surely finds himself in a catch twenty two. On the one hands, Minister Patel is a socialist at heart and has very much focused his efforts on utilising the Competition Act and authorities to promote industrial policy action and advance socio-economic objectives. Now, both as Minister of Trade and Industry and in light of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s drive to attract foreign direct investment, Minister Patel needs to tread a far more intricate line than ay previously the case (under President Jacob Zuma’s reign).

On the one hand, large foreign mergers present Minister Patel with a golden opportunity to extract non-merger specific public interest commitments – which merging parties often acquiesce to in order to preclude protracted litigation. On the other, Minister Patel needs to ensure that South Africa’s message to the rest of the world is that we would welcome foreign investment with open arms.

John Oxenham says that while it is perhaps regrettable that the Competition Tribunal did not grapple fully with the extent to which these types of conditions would have been objectively justifiable in terms of the new merger control regime or whether they amount to an overreach. While the Tribunal typically does not dedicate substantial resources to evaluating mergers when there is no dispute between the parties – and understandably so – the Tribunal should be mindful of rubber-stamping approvals of this nature. The message that this decision sends to foreign firms seeking to invest in South Africa is certainly not a warm and inviting message. The lack of analysis and objective justification for the conditions sends a strong message to merging parties that the most important aspect for purposes of obtaining merger approval is to engage and reach settlement terms with Minister Patel.

When the executive becomes the gatekeeper to merger control approvals (or competition law enforcement more generally), this very rapidly blurs the distinction of the separation of powers.

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AAT, price discrimination, Uncategorized

South Africa News Alert: Price Discrimination and Buyer Power Provisions brought into effect.

On 13 February 2020, exactly a year since the price discrimination and buyer power provisions were signed into law, President Ramaphosa and Minister Patel have brought into effect the operation of the amended section 9 of the South African Competition Act (price discrimination) as well as section 8(4) (buyer power provisions) together with the respective Regulations.

Both provisions are aimed at ensuring that small or medium owned businesses or firms controlled by historically disadvantaged persons are able to “participate effectively” in the market.

While the buyer power provisions are largely consumer protection provisions – which require large firms to impose fair trading terms vis-a-vis their smaller customers, the amended section 9 of the Act has material ramifications not only for large suppliers but consumers as well.

At the heart of section 9, is a prohibition of volume based rebates/trading terms. While the Act permits for certain efficiency based pricing differentials (provided they are proportionate and reasonable), suppliers are prohibited from competing purely based on quantities. Low margins high volume type strategies would in many instances be prohibited – with the concomitant imposition of administrative penalties.

The motivation behind the amendments is to assist smaller players participate in the market. A noble objective. Although it seems quite apparent that those in support of the amendments have not fully recognized, appreciated or cared about the unintended consequences which are likely to flow from section 9.

Pro-consumer welfare pricing strategies may, under the amended Act, be outlawed. So while the counter factual is that certain small businesses may benefit, is this an industrial policy victory if consumer welfare is diminished? Hardly.

Although section 9 and section 8(4) where brought into effect on the eve of President Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address – certainly not coincidental – a challenge to the rationality of section 9 seems most likely.

The Competition Commission’s price discrimination draft guidelines expressly preclude any considerations to the level of efficiency of downstream customers or any impact (good or bad) on consumer welfare).

Seriously concerning stuff and large suppliers (across all industries) should take note of these amendments with urgency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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AAT, East Africa, Kenya, mergers, Uncategorized

KENYA: AIRTEL//TELKOM KENYA MERGER CONDITIONS TAKEN ON APPEAL

By Ruth Mosoti

In December 2019, the CAK approved the merger between two Kenyan telecom firms, Airtel and Telkom Kenya, subject to a number of wide ranging conditions.

The merging parties, however, were not satisfied with the conditions and have decided to take the CAK’S decision on review to the Competition Tribunal. Kenya’s Competition Tribunal was fully constituted and became operational in May 2019 after four members were appointed to the panel.

In terms of  the Kenyan Competition Act, any party aggrieved by a decision of the CAK in relation to a merger has 30 days to file for a review of that merger before the Tribunal. The 30 days period commences from the date the CAK’s decision is published in the gazette. Accordingly, although the merger was formally approved in October 2019, the merging parties had to wait until December 2019 for the gazette, containing the CAK’s decision, to be published before a notice for review could be filed.

The Tribunal has a broad range of powers and may overturn, amend or confirm the decision of the CAK. The Tribunal may also, if it considers it appropriate to do so, refer the matter back to the CAK for reconsideration of certain issues.

Turning to the conditions themselves, one of the contentious conditions relates to having the spectrum revert back to the government upon expiry of the merging parties’ license.

This is concerning as it is the Communications Authority of Kenya that issues and renews licences. The spectrum allocation by Communication Authority is an asset in the hands of the holder. Assuming that the spectrum is being utilized in accordance with the licence, ordinarily renewal is guaranteed.

The CAK’s decision that the license must revert back to the government is concerning as it seems to overlap with the Communications Authority’s mandate. John Oxenham, a director of Primerio, says that the interplay and conflict between the roles of competition and communications agencies are not unique to Kenya. In South Africa there have also been a number of issues which have raised as to which agency is best suited to assess ‘competition law matters’. A memorandum of understanding between the South African Competition Commission and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has been concluded in an effort to ensure consistency and enhanced collaboration between the two agencies in this regard.

The CAK’s conditions in this merger seem to be at odds with the CAK’s approach adopted in previous matters. For instance, when Yui exited the Kenyan market, both Airtel and Safaricom acquired Yu’s assets (including licenses). Although Safaricom had a larger chunk of the 2G spectrum, the CAK did not seem to take Safaricom’s market size into account when these assets were acquired. Perhaps the CAK appreciates that there was a missed opportunity.

This is will be the Tribunal’s first opportunity to review the CAK’s decision relating to a  merger and it will be interesting to see how robustly the Tribunal scrutinizes the CAK’s decision with reference to economic evidence. As competition lawyer Michael-James Currie points out, unfortunately, the CAK does not publish detailed reasons which underpin its decisions and it is, therefore, often difficult to fully appreciate the CAK’s reasoning or assess whether the CAK’s decision is sufficiently supported by the underlying evidence. Hopefully the Tribunal’s reasons in this matter will be more comprehensive, thereby contributing positively to creating precedent.

Currie also points out that the CAK imposed a public interest condition relating to a moratorium of any merger specific retrenchments for a two year period. The merging parties are appealing this condition as well and have proposed that the moratorium be reduced to 12 months. The role of public interest factors in merger control has been materially influenced by the South African merger control regime where employment related conditions are a common feature in merger conditions. Moreover, two year moratoriums is usually the ‘benchmark’ standard although moratoriums ranging from 3-5 years have also been imposed on parties in South Africa. It will be interesting to gauge the Tribunal’s approach to public interest factors and whether we will see a unique approach to the assessment of such conditions or whether the Tribunal is likely to follow the South African approach.

[Ruth is a Primerio competition law practitioner based in Nairobi, Kenya.]

 

 

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Uncategorized

Africa’s Economic Growth Story, as Told by a World Bank Chief Economist

By Andreas Stargard

Andreas Stargard

Andreas Stargard

Our editor had the pleasure of attending the Corporate Council on Africa‘s live lecture by Dr. Albert Zeufack on the state of the African economy yesterday.  Dr. Zeufack is the World Bank’s Chief Economist as to the Bank’s Africa Region portfolio.  Here are some notes from this insightful event…:

To lead off with the [sub-Saharan] elephant in the room, the overall economic measures of the African continent are disproportionately affected by its three largest economies, namely Nigeria, South Africa, and Angola.  Together, these three nations make up 60% of the African economy.   And with their own declining or stagnating growth rates, they’ve brought down African GDP growth overall since 2016.  The remaining 45 or so sub-Saharan economies continue to grow at above 4%, however.

The World Bank predicts an above-3% growth for the next two years.  However, in per capita terms, Africa has stagnated or even regressed, given the continent’s high population growth rate.  Job creation (and crucially so in the formal sector) remains a key criterion for the continent’s economic improvement.

Dr. Zeufack presenting at CCA

Two of fastest-growing economies are Ethiopia and Rwanda — not only in Africa but indeed worldwide, as Dr. Zeufack points out.

2020 will remain a challenging year, with brighter prospects for 2021 and beyond according to the World Bank’s Chief Economist on Africa, whose Afronomics podcast can be found here (background here).

Macroeconomically speaking, foreign investment growth is declining (in terms of rate), with absolute levels stagnating.  Also, quite interestingly, the structure of debt is changing across Africa. While public debt (and interest payments) will remain high, its creditors no longer consist of the old “Paris Club” but rather of new bond holders, other Asian emerging markets, etc., thus foreclosing another HIPC bailout.  Private lenders would have to take a big haircut.

Many African HIPC countries spend 90% of their tax revenue on paying off external debt (or even merely interest) and their government salaries.  Eradicating poverty is therefore a long shot for this decade, says Dr. Zeufack.

Climate change likewise disproportionately affects (negatively) the continent, through increased cyclones, drought, and floods on the east coast, and desertification and coastal erosion in the west, affecting the large western seaside urban areas.

On its CPIA scale (which stands for Country Policy and Institutional Assessment), used to allocate World Bank funds, Rwanda performs at the top in Africa and all IDA countries, showing functioning reforms in its investment climate.  Cabo Verde, Kenya and Senegal also perform well.

Mauritius remains the top-performing overall in terms of business climate, with Rwanda, South Africa, Kenya and Senegal likewise scoring comparatively well.

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AAT exclusive, Angola, Botswana, Grocery Retail Market Inquiry, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uncategorized

Key African Antitrust Highlights of 2019 and What to Keep Tabs on for 2020

The level of antitrust enforcement across Africa has increased markedly over the past decade and with more jurisdictions coming on stream and establishing competition law regimes, the role of antitrust laws and the risk of non-compliance is becoming more pronounced than ever before.

Pan-African competition lawyer, Michael-James Currie, says that the role and applicable standards relating to competition law enforcement in developing countries is more divergent from those established in the more developed jurisdictions. A one-size fits all approach to competition law compliance is becoming less feasible – particularly as the role of public interest or non-traditional competition law factors are increasingly being taken into account in competition policy and legislation. Likewise, the thresholds for establishing “dominance” is generally lower across many of the African jurisdictions than those generally utilised in the United States or Europe and firms’ therefore need to be mindful that the traditional assessments of welfare (whether it is total welfare or consumer welfare) is not necessarily the benchmark. The focus of addressing perceived high levels of concentration in the market and opening up the market to smaller players is hallmark of a number of the more developed African agencies – particularly South Africa and Kenya.

Primerio Director, John Oxenham, says that the next decade of competition law enforcement in Africa is likely to be particularly important as the continent moves closer towards establishing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. The harmonisation between regional bodies and domestic regimes remains an important challenges facing many agencies and this will become all the more relevant as member states negotiate an appropriate competition law framework suitable for the Continent.

Africanantitrust has throughout 2019 provided our readers with updates, opinion pieces and articles capturing the key competition law developments across Africa as they occur and our editors are committed to continuing doing so in 2020.

To start off the year, the editors at AfricanAntitrust provide a snapshot of the key highlights of 2019 as well as some of the most important developments to be expected in 2020 (although there will no doubt be many more).

Nigeria’s new Commission and the recent release of foreign merger control guidelines

In January 2019 the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (the “Act”) was signed into law in Nigeria.

Nigeria did not have a dedicated competition law regime until then. The Act, which is not too dissimilar from the South African Competition Act, will regulate inter alia merger control, cartel conduct, restrictive vertical practices and abuse of dominance.

The Act is not currently being enforced as the Federal Competition and Consumer Commission (the “Commission”) is yet to be formally established although this is expected to take place soon.

In relation to mergers, section 2(3)(d) of the Act empowers the Commission to have regulatory oversight over all indirect transfers/ acquisitions of assets or shares which are located outside of Nigeria, and which results in the change of control of a Nigerian business.

Pursuant to the above-mentioned clause, on 13 November 2019, the Commission published the “Guidelines on the Simplified Process for Foreign to Foreign Mergers with a Nigerian Component”. The Guidelines specifies the type of information which is required in respect of the merging parties, as well as the mandatory supporting documentation which should accompany a filing. Furthermore, the Guidelines assist parties to a foreign to foreign merger by providing explicit rules on how the merger is to be treated, notified as well as the simplified procedure with regards to the merger.

Primerio director, Andreas Stargard notes that the implementation of the Guidelines will be interesting as the Guidelines are the first of its kind in Africa and is largely influenced by the European merger control regime.

The Guidelines also provide information regarding filing fees – although the calculation of filing fees remains somewhat unclear and requires further clarification.

Kenya’s Buyer Power Provisions

In Kenya, the Competition Amendment Act (the Amendment Act) has provided a new provision, Section 24A, which deals with buyer power.

Abusive “buyer power” is now expressly prohibited and any person who engages in such conduct will be considered to have committed an offence. Such an offence carries the penalty of a fine not exceeding 10 million shillings or imprisonment not exceeding 5 years. The abuse of buyer power is, therefore, viewed as a serious offence.

The “abuse of buyer power” is defined in Section 24A (2) of the Amendment Act as the influence exercised by a purchaser to gain more favourable terms, or imposing:

long-term opportunity cost including harm or withheld benefit, which, if carried out, would be significantly disproportionate to any resulting long term cost to the undertaking or group of undertakings”.

In determining whether an abuse of buyer power exists, the Authority will take into account;

  • the nature and determination of contract terms between the concerned undertakings;
  • the payment requested for access to infrastructure; and
  • the price paid to suppliers as stated in section 24A (5) of the Amendment Act.

The above mentioned provision will likely have the effect of affording suppliers greater protection, particularly small suppliers who have a weak bargaining power in comparison to powerful and dominant purchasers. It is furthermore important to protect such suppliers as the negative effects of the abuse of buyer power are often transferred to consumers, for example high prices.

Most notably, as Michael-James Currie has previously pointed out when critically assessing the new buyer power provisions, it is not a prerequisite to prove that the respondent is “dominant” before the provisions of section 24A(2) may be applicable. Rather, the provision considers the bargaining power between a particular supplier and customer. This provision may be particularly harmful to consumer welfare if suppliers who negotiate favourable prices with suppliers which are passed on to consumers, are deterred from doing so due to the risks associated with contravening this provision.

Recent amendments in the Botswana competition landscape

The Botswana Competition Amendment Act recently came into force on 2 December 2019, and is expected to transform competition law in Botswana in various respects, particularly in terms of horizontal restrictive practices, abuse of dominance, exemptions and merger penalties.

Oxenham says that the previous Act did not provide for criminal liability in respect of cartel conduct, however, under Section 26 of the Amendment Act this position has changed. In terms of the Amendment Act, any director or employee who is found to have engaged in restrictive horizontal practices is liable to a fine not exceeding P100 000 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years or to both.

With respect to abuse of dominance, the Act previously did not list particular conduct that was considered to be an abuse of dominance. The Amendment Act provides clarity on the type of conduct that is likely to be considered abusive. The clarification is welcomed and will hopefully ensure greater compliance since undertakings now have the tools to foster a better understanding of what constitutes abuse of dominance and are better placed to ensure that their conduct does not fall foul of the prohibition.

The Amendment Act also caters for exemptions. The terms and conditions of any exemptions will be determined by the Authority who will take both competition law and public interest factors into account when assessing whether to grant an exemption.

In relation to penalties for gun-jumping (i.e. merger implementation prior to approval), the Amendment Act provides much needed clarity. Section 58(3) of the Acts states that implementing a merger without prior approval by the Authority will attract a fine not exceeding 10% of the consideration or the combined turnover of the parties involved in the merger – whichever is greater. Merging parties are, therefore, advised to ensure timeous notification is made in respect of any merger which meets the thresholds for a mandatory filing to seek merger approval in Botswana.

The Amendment Act has also introduced a provision regarding the consideration of a rejected merger.  Parties can apply for reconsideration of a merger within 14 days from the date of rejection. Such a provision provides the parties with an additional opportunity to provide oral evidence which is also a positive development.

Angola’s competition regime coming on stream

The Competition Act in Angola is now fully in force. The Competition Regulatory Authority (the “CRA”) is responsible for prosecuting offences. Conduct which occurred prior to the establishment of the Authority may still be prosecuted in certain circumstances.

The Competition Act prohibits both horizontal and vertical agreements that restrict competition in the Angolan market. Accordingly, undertakings have to be cautious in relation to the types of agreements they enter into as it may result in liability and prosecution by the CRA. The Act does however provide for exemptions from the prohibitions with the exception of abuse of dominance and abuse of economic dependence. Exemptions are only available upon application and the parties must demonstrate that they comply with certain conditions in order to be granted an exemption.

Importantly, Angola’s Competition Act creates a formal merger control regime. Mergers will now be subject to prior notification to the CRA and they have to meet certain specified requirements. The thresholds requiring prior notification are the following:

  • the creation, acquisition or reinforcement of a market share which is equal to or higher than 50% in the domestic market or a substantial part of it; or
  • the parties involved in the concentration exceeded a combined turnover in Angola of 3.5 billion Kwanzas in the preceding financial year; or
  • the creation, acquisition or reinforcement of a market share which is equal to or higher than 30%, but less than 50% in the relevant domestic market or a substantial part of it, if two or more of the undertakings achieved more than 450 million Kwanzas individual turnover in the preceding financial year.

Mergers must not hamper competition and must be consistent with public interest considerations such as:

  • a particular economic sector or region;
  • the relevant employment level;
  • the ability of small or historically disadvantaged enterprises to become competitive; or
  • the capability of the industry in Angola to compete internationally.

The sanctions for non-compliance with the Act’s merger provisions could result in the impositions of fines of 1%-10% of a company’s turnover for the preceding year, as well as other conditions which the Authority deems appropriate. Should a party fail to comply with relevant sanctions or conditions imposed by the Authority or provide with false information, the Authority may levy periodic penalty payments of up to 10% of the merging party’s average turnover daily.

South Africa

  • Amendment Act

In February 2019, the Competition Amendment Act was signed into law and is widely regarded as the most significant amendments to the South African Competition Act in two decades.

The majority of the provisions contained in the Amendment Act have been brought into force. Those amendments – particularly those relating to buyer power, price discrimination and national security approval regarding foreign mergers are expected to be brought into effect in 2020.

Some important aspects of the Amendment Act include:Mergers involving foreign acquiring firms :

The President is to establish a Committee which will be mandated to consider the implementation of mergers which involve a foreign acquiring firm and the potential adverse effect of the merger on the national security interests of the Republic. Essentially this means that a foreign acquiring firm is required to notify both the Competition Commission, as well as file a notice with the Committee. Security interests are broadly defined.

Buyer power

The insertion of Section 8(4)(a) essentially prohibits a dominant firm from requiring or imposing unfair prices or other trading conditions on a supplier that is a small and medium business (“SMEs”) or a firm controlled or owned by historically disadvantaged persons (“HDPs”). This section also introduces a reverse onus on the dominant firm to prove that its trading terms or conditions are not unfair nor that there has been any attempt to refuse to deal with a supplier in order to circumvent the operation of this clause.

The regulations regarding Buyer Power are currently only applicable to the following sectors:

  • Agro-processing;
  • Grocery retail; and
  • Online intermediation services.

Price discrimination

In determining price discrimination by a dominant firm, the Amendment Act has created two parallel self-standing tests. The Act has retained the traditional test for price discrimination which requires proof of a substantial lessening of competition, but has also prohibited a dominant firm from engaging in price discrimination which impedes the ability of Small or Medium Enterprises (“SMEs”) or firms controlled by historically disadvantaged persons (HDPs) from “participating effectively” in the market. Dominant firms are also not allowed to avoid or refuse selling goods or services to SMEs or firms owned or controlled by HDPs to circumvent the section. Significantly, and unlike the traditional price discrimination provision, Section 9(1)(a)(ii) does not require a complainant to prove any anti-competitive effects or consumer welfare effects.

Penalties

The Amendment Act has removed the “yellow-card” principle and administrative penalties will be imposed for any contravention. Previously, penalties for first-time offences were only applicable to cartel conduct, minimum resale price maintenance and certain abuse of dominance conduct (such as excessive pricing or predation).

Mergers

The role of public interest factors in the merger control assessment has become more prominent by firstly elevating the standard of public interest factors to equal footing with traditional competition law factors (i.e. SLC tests) and also broadening the public interest grounds which must be taken into consideration to specifically include transformation objectives.

  • Important cases

In December 2019, the South African Competition Appeal Court heard the appeal from the Tribunal in relation to the “Banking Forex” Matter.

Oxenham says that this case raises a number of jurisdictional issues in relation to the scope and powers of the South African Competition Authorities to impose penalties on foreign firms for engaging in cartel conduct outside of South Africa. Both personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction is being contested.

  • Market Inquiries

In 2019, the Commission fully utilized its powers in Section 43A-G and 23 in initiating and conducting market inquiries as well as its duty to remedy adverse effects on competition. Three market inquiries were conducted in 2019, namely:

  • The Health Market Inquiry;
  • The Grocery Retail Market Inquiry; and
  • The Data Services Market Inquiry

The implementation of the Commission’s recommendations of the abovementioned market inquiries will likely be a controversial topic, and much push-back is expected from parties implicated in the recommendations.

 

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