The African WRAP – JUNE 2017 edition

The first half of 2017 has been an exciting one from a competition law perspective for a number of African countries. As certain agencies have taken a more robust approach to enforcement while others have been actively pursuing or developing their own domestic competition law legislation. Further, there is an increasingly prevalent interplay between domestic laws with regional competition law and policy in an effort to harmonise and promote regional integration.

In this addition of the WRAP, we highlight some of the key antitrust developments taking place across the continent. The editors at AAT have featured a number of articles which provide further insight and commentary on various topics and our readers are encouraged to visit the AAT Blog for further materials and useful updates.


AAT is indebted to the continuous support and assistance of Primerio and its directors in sharing their insights and expertise on various African antitrust related matters. To contact a Primerio representative, please see the Primerio brochure for contact details. Alternatively, please visit Primerio’s website


 

Kenya

Grocery Market Inquiry

On 27 January 2017, the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) exercised its powers in terms of section 18 (1) (a) of the Competition Act, 2010, to conduct a market inquiry into the branded retail sector.

The key issues which the CAK’s will focus on during the inquiry include:

  1. the allocation of shelf space and the relative bargaining power between retailers and their suppliers;
  2. the nature of and the extent of exclusive agreements at one stop shop destinations and their effects on competition;
  3. the pricing strategies retailers employ especially in regards to responding to new entrants;
  4. whether there are any strategic barriers to entry created by incumbent firms to limit entry in the market; and
  5. the effect of the supermarkets branded products on competition

Legislative amendments

The Kenya Competition Act (Act) has undergone a number of amendments in the past year.

Most notably, however, section 24 of the Act, which deals with abuse of dominance generally, has been amended to also cater for an abuse of “buyer power”.

Without being exhaustive, a number of practices which would typically constitute an abuse of dominance include:

  1. imposing unfair purchasing or selling prices;
  2. limiting or restricting output, market access or technological advancements;
  3. tying and/or bundling as part of contractual terms; or
  4. abusing intellectual property rights.

In terms of the definition of “dominance” in the Act, a firm will be considered dominant if that firm has greater than a 50% market share.

The amendment, as drafted, raises a number of concerns as previously noted on AAT.

Botswana

Merger control – Prior Implementation

On 17 February 2017, the Competition Authority of Botswana (CA) prohibited a merger between Universal House (Pty) Ltd and Mmegi Investment Holdings (Pty) Ltd.

The CA prohibited the merger on the grounds that the transaction was likely to lead to a substantial prevention or lessening of competition in the market. In particular, the CA held that the “market structure in the provision of commercial radio broadcasting services will be altered, and as such raises competition and public interest concerns”.

At the stage of ordering the divestiture, a suitable third party had not yet been identified and the merging parties were obliged to sell the 28.73 shares to a third party “with no business interests affiliated in any way with the acquiring entity”. The divestiture was also to take place within three months of the CA’s decisions and, should the thresholds be met for a mandatorily notifiable merger, the CA would require that the proposed divestiture also be notified.

South Africa

Follow-on Civil Liability

A second civil damages award was imposed in 2017 on South Africa’s national airline carrier, SAA, following the Competition Tribunal’s finding that SAA had engaged in abuse of dominance practices, in favour of Comair. This award comes after the first ever successful follow-on civil damages claim in South Africa (as a result of competition law violation) which related to Nationwide’s civil claim against SAA.  In the Nationwide matter, the High Court awarded, (in August 2016) damages to Nationwide in the amount of R325 million.   Comair claim for damages was based on the same cause of action as Nationwide’s claim. The High Court, however, awarded damages in favour of Comair of R554 million plus interest bring the total award to over a R1 billion (or about US$ 80 million).

Please see AAT’s featured article here for further insights into this case.

Market Inquiries

The SACC published a notice in the Government Gazette on 10 May 2017, indicating that it will conduct a market inquiry into the Public Passenger Transport sector (PPT Inquiry) which is scheduled to commence in June 2017.

The PPT inquiry, is expected to span two years and will involve public hearings, surveys and meetings with stakeholders which will cover all forms of (land-based) public passenger transport. The SACC indicated in its report that “…it has reason to believe that there are features or a combination of features in the industry that may prevent, distort or restrict competition, and / or to achieve the purpose of the Competition Act”.

Legislative amendments

The South African Competition Commission (SACC) recently published draft guidelines for determining the administrative penalty applicable for prior implementing a merger in contravention of the South African Competition Acts’ merger control provisions (the Draft Guidelines).

In terms of the penalty calculations, the Draft Guidelines prescribe a minimum administrative penalty of R5 million (USD 384 615) for the prior implementation of an intermediate merger and a R20 million (USD 1.5 million) penalty for implementing a large merger prior to being granted approval. The Draft Guidelines cater further for a number of aggravating or mitigating factors which may influence the quantum of the penalty ultimately imposed.

Egypt

Investigations

The Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA), has also referred the heads of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to the Egyptian Economic Court for competition-law violations relating to certain exclusive marketing & broadcasting rights. This follows the COMESA Competition Commission also electing to investigate this conduct.

In addition, it has been reported that the ECA has initiated prosecution of seven companies engaged in alleged government-contract bid rigging in the medical supply field, relating to hospital supplies.

Mauritius

Minimum resale price maintenance

In a landmark judgment, the Competition Commission of Mauritius (CCM) recently concluded its first successful prosecution in relation to Resale Price Maintenance (RPM), which is precluded in terms of Section 43 of the Mauritius Competition Act 25 of 2007 (Competition Act).

The CCM held that Panagora Marketing Company Ltd (Panagora) engaged in prohibited vertical practices by imposing a minimum resale price on its downstream dealers and consequently fined Panagora Rs 29 932 132.00 (US$ 849,138.51) on a ‘per contravention’ basis. In this regard, the CMM held that Panagora had engaged in three separate instances of RPM and accordingly the total penalty paid by Pangora was Rs 3 656 473.00, Rs 22 198 549.00 and Rs4 007 110.00 respectively for each contravention.

Please see AAT’s featured article here for further information.

Leniency Policy

The global trend in competition law towards granting immunity to cartel whistleblowers has now been embraced by the Competition Commission of Mauritius (CCM). The CCM will also grant temporary immunity (during the half-year period from March 1 until the end of August 2017) not only to repentant participants but also to lead initiators of cartels, under the country’s Leniency Programme.

COMESA

The COMESA Competition Commission (CCC) announced early 2017 that it will be investigating allegations of exclusionary conduct in relation to the Confederate of African Football’s (CAF) decision to extend an exclusive marketing of broadcasting rights and sponsorship agreement with Lagardère Sports in relation CAF tournaments.

Please see AAT’s featured article here for more information.

What to look out for?

Zambia

Guidelines

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) published series of guidelines and policies during 2016. These included adopting a formal Leniency Policy as well as guidelines for calculating administrative penalties.

In addition, the CCPC also published draft “Settlement Guidelines” which provides a formal framework for parties seeking to engage the CCPV for purposes of reaching a settlement. The Settlement Guidelines present a number of practical challenges as currently drafted. One example is that the guidelines don’t cater or seem to recognise “without prejudice” settlement negotiations.

It is anticipated that the draft Settlement Guidelines will be formally adopted this year.

Please click here to read the feature article on AAT.

Namibia

In April 2017, the CEO of the Namibian Competition Commission (NCC), Mr. Mihe Gaomab II, announced that the NCC has made submissions to the Minister of Trade and Industry in relation to proposed legislation which will regulate franchise models in Namibia.

While recognising the benefits of franchise models, the NCC is, however, concerned that there are a number of franchises in Namibia which may be anti-competitive in that the franchisor-franchisee relationship creates certain barriers to entry.

The NCC has specifically identified the practice, by way of an example, whereby certain franchisors deliberately ensure that there is a lack of competition between franchisees in the downstream market. The rationale behind this commercial strategy is allegedly so that the franchisor may extract greater royalties or franchise fees from the respective franchisees, as the franchisee is assured of a lack of competition.

The NCC views this practice as well as a various similar practices as potentially anti-competitive as the structure of certain franchise models may result in collusion between franchisees.

For further commentary on this development, please see AAT’s featured article.

Nigeria

Nigeria remains, for now, one of the few powerhouse African economies without any antitrust legislation. The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill of 2016, however, recently made it past the initial hurdle of receiving sufficient votes in the lower House of Representatives.  The Bill is, therefore, expected to be brought into effect during the latter part of 2017 or early 2018.

South Africa

Market inquiries

The Minister of the Department of Economic Development, who has fulfills the oversight function of the South African Competition Authorities, has announced that a market inquiry will be conducted in relation to the “high costs of Data” in South Africa.

This would be the fifth formal market inquiry since the Competition Act was amended to afford the Competition Commission with formal powers to conduct market inquiries.

Complex monopoly provisions

Both Minister Patel and the President have announced that the Competition Act will undergo further legislative amendments in order to address perceived high levels of concentration in certain industries.

In this regard, it is likely that the competition amendment act’s provisions relating to abuse of dominance and complex monopolies, which was drafted in 2009, will be brought into effect.

In terms of the provisions, as currently drafted, where five or less firms have 75% market share in the same market, a firm could be found to have engaged in prohibited conduct if any two or more of those firms collectively act in a parallel manner which has the effect of lessening competition in the market (i.e. by creating barriers to entry, charging excessive prices or exclusive dealing and “other market characteristics which indicate coordinated behavior”).

Please see AAT’s feature article here for further commentary.

South Africa: Pharmaceutical Companies in the Spotlight after Excessive Pricing Investigation Announced

On 13 June 2017, the South African Competition Commission (SACC) announced that it would be investigating three pharmaceutical companies namely, Roche Holding AG (Roche), Pfizer Inc (Pfizer) and Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd (Aspen), for allegedly abusing their dominance in relation to certain lung cancer medication.

In the SACC’s press statement, the SACC indicated that it would be investigating the firms for allegedly engaging in “excessive pricing, price discrimination and/or exclusionary conduct”.

The decision to investigate the pharmaceutical companies comes shortly after the BRICS competition agencies apparently agreed to investigate the pharmaceutical companies who conduct business in the BRICS member states. A World Bank Report, which prompted the BRICS agencies to investigate this sector, indicated that the pharmaceutical industry is prone to “cartel like” behavior.

In relation to the SACC’s current investigation, the SACC appears to have identified primarily two areas of concern. Firstly, that the relevant companies are charging ‘excessive prices’ and secondly, that there is a discrepancy between the prices charged to the public versus private healthcare sector – which may amount to price discrimination or exclusionary conduct.

Importantly, neither a contravention in relation to ‘price discrimination’ nor ‘general exclusionary conduct’ carries with it an administrative penalty for a first time offence. In relation to ‘excessive pricing’, however, a firm could be fined an administrative penalty of up to 10% of its annual turnover if found to have contravened section 8(a) of the South African Competition Act.

The seminal case on excessive pricing was the recent Sasol case in which the Competition Appeal Court ultimately over turned the Competition Tribunal’s finding the Sasol had engaged in ‘excessive pricing’. AAT published a paper by John Oxenham and Michael-James Currie which provides an in depth evaluation of the Sasol case and the criteria which must be met by the SACC in order to sustain a case of excessive pricing. AAT followers can access the full article here.

The timing of the SACC’s decision is also particularly noteworthy. As Andreas Stargard, director at Primerio, states “the SACC is currently conducting a market inquiry into the private healthcare sector and the SACC has far reaching powers to obtain information and evidence from third parties – which includes pharmaceutical companies. Whether the SACC’s decision to investigate these companies sprung from submissions received during the market inquiry is not yet clear, but cannot be ruled out at this stage”.

Stargard, however, also points out that “the cost of private healthcare and certain medicinal products has been the focus of a number of agencies worldwide. The Italian, Spanish and UK authorities have recently launched investigations in relation to the prices of certain cancer treatment products. The SACC’s investigation may well be a shaped by broader collaboration between the various competition law agencies”.

As the investigation unfolds, so it will become clearer what the catalyst was for the SACC’s decision to launch this particular investigation.

A particularly noteworthy comment expressed by the Commissioner of the SACC is that the use of patents has potentially resulted in the relevant companies having created monopolistic positions in the market. The interplay between competition and intellectual property law is no doubt going to play a key role in this investigation and the outcome of the SACC’s investigation may have far reaching consequences not only in the pharmaceutical sector but in a number of industries where patents are particularly prevalent.

Although it will be some time before more light is shed on this investigation from the authority’s perspective, the SACC indicated that additional resources have been allocated to this investigation as it has been categorized as a ‘priority’ investigation by the SACC.

South Africa- Market Inquiry Transport Sector

The amendments to the South African Competition Act, (the Act) in 2009 granted the South African Competition Commission (SACC) formal powers to conduct market inquiries. Since then South African business has witnessed a sharp increase in market inquires including: private health care sector, liquefied petroleum gas sector (LPG) as well as the grocery retail market sector.

Fresh off the SACC’s recent conclusion of its market inquiry into the LPG sector, the SACC published a notice in the Government Gazette on 10 May 2017, indicating that it will conduct an inquiry into the Public Passenger Transport sector (PPT Inquiry) which is scheduled to commence on 7 June 2017.

The PPT inquiry, is expected to span two years and will involve public hearings, surveys and meetings with stakeholders which will cover all forms of (land-based) public passenger transport. The SACC indicated in its report that “…it has reason to believe that there are features or a combination of features in the industry that may prevent, distort or restrict competition, and / or to achieve the purpose of the Competition Act”.

Andreas Stargard, who has followed the sector closely since 2013 (when Uber first entered the market), notes that the “SACC’s decision to initiate an inquiry into the PPT sector comes as no surprise”..

As African Antitrust (AAT) had previously reportedthe “taxi and bus” industry is riddled with collusive behaviour. In light of the fact that most of South Africa’s indigent are fully dependent on taxis for transportation in South Africa and spend a significant portion of their disposal income on taxi fees, this is an issue which needs to be addressed urgently by the competition agencies by acting “without fear, favour or prejudice”’.

From the SACC’s perspective, conducting the PPT inquiry without “fear favour or prejudice” will certainly present its challenges as the sector is renowned for its aggressive operators in what is considered to be a “conflict ridden” industry.

Although the SACC has identified various concerns within this sector, which is complex, there can be no doubt that the SACC’s investigation will have to deal with Uber’s entry into the sector and the hostile and violent resistance which Uber has faced from the ‘metered taxi industry’. Accordingly, it will be most interesting to see how the SACC deals with the broader socio-political issues culminating in physical intimation and violent protests which have plagued the taxi industry.

Andreas Stargard notes further, “this inquiry will be crucial within the current South African context as the effects of rising public transport costs is largely experienced and absorbed by the most marginalized members of the South African society”. It is reported that the costs of public transport is estimated to have more than doubled between 2003 and 2013, with half of the workers using public transport suffering a 40% or more reduction in their hourly wage due to transport costs.

Furthermore, the SACC pointed out, in its report, that only 29.8% of South African households own a motor vehicle, which means that the majority of the population (between 70% and 80%) relies on the PPT sector to get them to and from work, school etc. Accordingly, the PPT sector plays an imperative role in providing meaningful mobility to the majority of the population, which is essential in promoting the broader South African development plan of inclusive economic participation.

Although only the LPG market inquiry is the only formal inquiry to have been concluded to date, a question mark remains over whether market inquiries are yielding effective results sufficient to justify the significant resources which accompany such an inquiry.

Market inquiries are extremely burdensome on the relevant market participants and there does appear to be a risk that market inquiries and the SACC’s resources are being used to promote industrial policies at the expense of promoting competition in the market.

South African Competition Commission Publishes Draft Penalty Guidelines for Prior Implementation

  • By Michael-James Currie

The South African Competition Commission (SACC) recently published draft guidelines  for determining the administrative penalty applicable for prior implementing a merger in contravention of the South African Competition Acts’ merger control provisions (the Draft Guidelines).

Although the SACC has published guidelines for the determination of administrative penalties in respect of cartel conduct, the SACC has recognised that different considerations apply when calculating the appropriateness of a penalty for ‘gun-jumping’.

South Africa has a suspensory merger control regime and transactions which fall within the ambit of the Competition Acts merger definition, and which meet the mandatorily notifiable financials thresholds, may not be implemented until approval has been obtained by the Competition authorities.

The financial thresholds distinguish between intermediate mergers and large mergers. Both are mandatorily notifiable. Transactions which do not meet the notification thresholds are considered small mergers and may either be voluntarily notified or must be notified at the insistence of the SACC.

In relation to ‘intermediate mergers’ the Competition Commission is mandated with considering and approving (or prohibiting) an intermediate merger whereas in the case of large mergers, the Competition Tribunal is tasked with evaluating the proposed transaction.

Regardless of whether the merger is an intermediate or large merger, the Competition Act provides for an administrative penalty of up to 10% of the firms’ respective South African generated turnover to be imposed on the merging parties for failing to notify the merger.

In terms of the penalty calculations, the Draft Guidelines prescribe a minimum administrative penalty of R5 million (USD 384 615)  for the prior implementation of an intermediate merger and a R20 million (USD 1.5 million) penalty for implementing a large merger prior to being granted approval. The Draft Guidelines cater further for a number of aggravating or mitigating factors which may influence the quantum of the penalty ultimately imposed.

The Draft Guidelines also provide useful guidance as to when a transaction may amount to a ‘prior implementation’. Some of the examples listed in the Draft Guidelines include:

  • The acquisition of 49% of the issued share capital of a company coupled with control in the form of section 12(2)(c) i.e. the right to appoint the majority of the directors in the company.
  • The acquisition by two wholly-owned subsidiaries of certain properties and the failure to notify those acquisition due to the mistaken belief that the transactions amounted to two small mergers.
  • Where a senior executive of the acquiring firm had been engaging in the day-to-day operations of the target firm and the merging parties were already marketing themselves as a single entity.
  • Where the acquiring firm becomes involved in the strategic planning of the target firm, identifies target markets, develops new products or services, takes charge of ordering raw materials, amends procurement policies or becomes involved in customer relations.
  • Where the merging firms cease marketing in order not to compete with each other.
  • Acquiring firms appointing directors to the board of the target firm as the appointment of even one or two directors might give material influence and thus control.

The above instances are only a few of the examples listed and are based mostly on case precedent before the Competition Authorities. This list is, however, in no way exhaustive.

Importantly, the Draft Guidelines, in their current form appears to draw a distinction between “prior implementation” and a “failure to notify”. In relation to latter, the Draft Guidelines indicate that:

A contravention of failure to notify is committed where:

  1. the transaction constitutes a merger under the Act;
  2. the transaction meets the thresholds for notification under the Act; and
  3. the parties have failed to notify the Commission of the transaction.

Technically, a failure to notify does not amount to a contravention in of itself. A contravention only arises if the transaction was not notified and the transaction was subsequently implemented. In other words, merging parties would not be in breach of the Competition Act if a merger agreement has been concluded, but the parties are yet to notify the SACC thereof. Unlike a number of other jurisdictions, there is not a specified time period in which a transaction which meets the thresholds must be notified. A contravention only arises in the event that such a transaction is implemented prior to approval having been granted. We trust that this technical anomaly will be addressed in the final draft.

In light of recent case precedent, the South African Competition Authorities are increasingly less sympathetic to firms who ‘inadvertently’ fail to notify a mandatorily notifiable merger. The SACC’s decision to adopt specific guidelines for contravening the merger control provisions is clear affirmation that the competition authorities expect firms to familiarise themselves with the precise ambit and scope of the Competition Act.

 

CITIBANK EXECUTIVES FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES IN SOUTH AFRICA FOR ALLEGEDLY ENGAGING IN “CORRUPT” COLLUSIVE CONDUCT

In the wake of Citibank entering into a R69 million settlement agreement with the South African Competition Commission (SACC), the Bank’s executives now face the threat of criminal sanctions as well.

Citibank’s settlement follows the SACC’s complaint referral in which it is alleged that up to 18 banking entities had engaged in collusive conduct in contravention of the Competition Act by allegedly manipulating the Rand/Dollar exchange rate through forex trading.

Citibank was one of the first respondents to settle their case with the SACC, however, on 21 April 2017, an independent organisation, the Black Empowerment Foundation (BEF), formally laid criminal charges against Citibank’s top executives at a South African Police station.

The allegations by the BEF include, inter alia, that Citibank had engaged in corrupt activities resulting in Citibank having “generated profits at the expense of ordinary South Africans”.

The BEF have also indicated that they would write to the President and the National Prosecuting Authority in an effort to elevate and expedite this case.

Importantly, as of 1 May 2016, the Competition Act was amended in order to criminalise cartel conduct – as prohibited in section 4(1)(b) of the Competition Act. It is not yet clear whether the criminal complaint laid by the BEF is based on a section 4(1)(b) contravention or a broader complaint of ‘corruption’ which is dealt with by other legislation, such as the Prevention and Combatting of Corrupt Activities Act.

The introduction of criminal liability for contravening the Competition Act has, however, been contentious. There have been a number of concerns raised by competition law practitioners regarding the manner in which a criminal investigation would be conducted. In this regard, it is important to note that the competition authorities are not responsible for investigating or adjudicating criminal matters. This function is reserved for the National Prosecuting Authority and the criminal courts (i.e. the High Courts).

Furthermore, section 4(1)(b) of the Competition Act prohibits cartel conduct per se (meaning that there is no rule of reason defence available to a respondent) which means that the threshold of contravening the Competition Act is relatively low. It is unlikely that this low threshold would suffice in respect of a criminal case.

It is further unclear to what extent any evidence gathered by the SACC may be used by the National Prosecuting Authority in a subsequent criminal complaint.

It is understood that there is currently a Memorandum of Understanding that is busy being drafted between the SACC and the National Prosecuting Authority which may provide greater clarity in relation to certain of the procedural aspects surrounding a criminal prosecution. To date, however, this MoU has not been published and little guidance has been provided by the respective agencies as to how they intend conducting criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Although it remains to be seen whether the criminal charges laid by the BEF will ultimately be prosecuted by the National Prosecuting Authority, the case is likely to take centre stage in the next few weeks as the entire investigation and referral of the banks by the SACC has been questioned and concerns regarding political influence has dogged the SACC since the decision was taken to refer the matter earlier this year.

It is also not yet clear why the BEF elected only to lay criminal charges against Citibank and not the other respondents. Collusive conduct by its very nature necessitates more than one party to be implicated.  The BEF may simply be waiting until additional banks enter into settlement agreements (in which an admission of liability is generally a requirement) with the SACC before laying further complaints. Regardless, the BEF’s complaint is likely to have a significant impact on other respondents who may be considering settling with the SACC.

With the threat of a maximum prison sentence of up to 10 years and/or a fine of up to R500 000, this complaint will not be taken lightly by Citibank and all eyes will not only on Citibank, but also on the respective enforcement agencies to see how they will respond to the criminal charges brought by the BEF.

Namibia Competition Commission: New Franchise Laws to Address Anti-Competitive Concerns

By AAT Senior Contributor, Michael-James Currie

The CEO of the Namibian Competition Commission (NCC), Mr. Mihe Gaomab II, recently announced that the NCC has made submissions to the Minister of Trade and Industry in relation to proposed legislation which will regulate franchise models in Namibia.

Currently, there is no specific ‘franchise law’ in Namibia and moreover, franchisees are not required to apply to the Minister of Trade and Industry for registration of an ‘approval’ licences. Accordingly, there is minimal regulatory oversight in respect of franchise models.

While recognising the benefits of franchise models, the NCC is, however, concerned that there are a number of franchises in Namibia which may be anti-competitive in that the franchisor-franchisee relationship creates certain barriers to entry.

The NCC has specifically identified the practice, by way of an example, whereby certain franchisors deliberately ensure that there is a lack of competition between franchisees in the downstream market. The rationale behind this commercial strategy is allegedly so that the franchisor may extract greater royalties or franchise fees from the respective franchisees, as the franchisee is assured of a lack of competition.

The NCC views this practice as well as a various similar practices as potentially anti-competitive as the structure of certain franchise models may result in collusion between franchisees.

Unlike a number of jurisdictions, including South Africa, however, collusive conduct is not prohibited per se and a franchise agreement or model will, therefore, only amount to a contravention of the Namibia Competition Act if there is (or likely to be) an anti-competitive effect which cannot be justified or outweighed by other pro-competitive or efficiency arguments (i.e. rule of reason arguments).

The rule of reason analysis also extends to ‘minimum resale price maintenance’ (MRPM) under Namibian competition law. Again, unlike the position in South Africa, MRPM is not a per se prohibition (i.e. there is rule of reason defence available to a respondent). MRPM in terms of the South African Competition Act is a controversial topic as in many instances, the very success of a franchise model is dependent on uniformity in pricing across all franchisees. Furthermore, issues such as protecting brand reputation are also generally acceptable commercial practices which may amount to a contravention due to the strict application of the MRPM provisions under South African law.

In Namibia, franchisors therefore have somewhat more flexibility when recommending minimum resale prices than their South African counterparts. It should be noted, however, that the NCC is monitoring franchise models closely to ensure that franchisors do not overstep the mark by implementing a franchise model which has as its object or effect, the lessening of competition in the market.

MAURITIUS COMPETITION AUTHORITY PENALIZES FIRM FOR ENGAGING IN RESALE PRICE MAINTENANCE

By AAT Senior Contributor, Michael-James Currie

In a landmark judgment, the Competition Commission of Mauritius (CCM) recently concluded its first successful prosecution in relation to Resale Price Maintenance (RPM), which is precluded in terms of Section 43 of the Mauritius Competition Act 25 of 2007 (Competition Act).

The CCM held that Panagora Marketing Company Ltd (Panagora) engaged in prohibited vertical practices by imposing a minimum resale price on its downstream dealers and consequently fined Panagora Rs 29 932 132.00 (US$ 849,138.51) on a ‘per contravention’ basis. In this regard, the CMM held that Panagora had engaged in three separate instances of RPM and accordingly the total penalty paid by Pangora was Rs 3 656 473.00, Rs 22 198 549.00 and 4 007 110.00 respectively for each contravention.

The judgment is important as it not only demonstrates the CCM’s increasing enforcement efforts and risk of non-compliance with the Competition Act (this decisions follows on CCM’s recent findings against firms for engaging in abuse of dominance conduct) but has created a particularly strict threshold on firms in relation to what constitutes price maintenance in terms of Mauritius competition law. RPM is a prohibited vertical practice, in which suppliers restrict or prescribe the manner in which customers resell the relevant products or services. Minimum resale price maintenance is prohibited in most jurisdictions. Whether the contravention is a “per se’ contravention (i.e. that there is no rule of reason defence available to a respondent) or whether proving an anti-competitive effect is a necessary requirement to prove a contravention is generally the key difference in the manner in which competition agencies enforce RPM.

In relation to Panagora,  the company was found to have contravened the Competition Act as a result of having affixed the resale price on two of its ‘Chantecler’ branded chicken products (chilled and frozen), without affixing the words ‘recommended price’ next to the stated price.

In addition, Panagora engaged in promotional sales to dealers  utilising a ‘deal sheet’ which contained the following clause “Le fournisseur se reserve le droit d’annuler le tariff promotionnel au cas ou certains produits sont vendus en dessous du prix normal” (the supplier reserves the right to cancel the promotional price in the event that certain products are sold below the normal price).

Importantly, in reaching its determination, the Executive Director held that although foreign case law, particularly Australian, UK and EU legal precedent serves as a useful guideline. The Mauritius Competition Act (in so far as it relates to RPM), differs vastly from its international counter-parts. In this regard, the Competition Act merely requires evidence supporting the contention that there was an object or effect of directly or indirectly establishing a fixed or minimum price or price level to prove a contravention. The Mauritius Competition Act  does not require that the conduct in any way prevented, restricted or distorted competition in the market.

Andreas Stargard, a competition practitioner with Africa boutique firm Primerio Ltd., notes that ‘[a] further important aspect of the CCM’s ruling is that sanction (or threat of a sanction) is not a requirement to prove a contravention of the RPM prohibition. Accordingly, the inquiry did not consider whether the downstream customer retained the discretion to price below the “stated price”.’

The legal precedent created by the CMM’s ruling provides much needed clarity as to how the CMM will evaluate resale price maintenance cases and firms need to be particularly cautious in relation to the terms of engagement with customers who on-sell their products.

 

Cameroon: Opportunities & Challenges

This past Saturday, 11 March 2017, the Cameroonian Embassy in Paris, France, hosted a conference entitled “Cameroun, Destination d’Opportunités: Potentiel et défis” in conjunction with the Association of Cameroonian Attorneys in France.  The full programme is made available to AAT readers here.

1425573796In its afternoon panel on investment in Cameroons, Primerio Ltd. legal counsel, Dr. Patricia Kipiani spoke at length about the country’s high-growth sectors.  Her co-panellists included the Paris bar’s Lynda Amadagana as moderator, and William Nkontchou (ECP Director) and Hilaire Dongmo (Investment Principal at Actis).

BOTSWANA: COMPETITION AUTHORITY PROHIBITS MERGER POST-IMPLEMENTATION

– by Michael-James Currie

On 17 February 2017, the Competition Authority of Botswana (CA) prohibited a merger between Universal House (Pty) Ltd and Mmegi Investment Holdings (Pty) Ltd.

Furthermore, the merger had already been implemented and, therefore, the CA ordered that the 28.73% interest in Mmegi Investments which Universal Investments had acquired be divested to a third party.

At the stage of ordering the divestiture, a suitable third party had not yet been identified and the merging parties were obliged to sell the 28.73 shares to a third party “with no business interests affiliated in any way with the acquiring entity”. The divestiture is also to take place within three months of the CA’s decisions and, should the thresholds be met for a mandatorily notifiable merger, the CA would require that the proposed divestiture also be notified.

The CA prohibited the merger on the grounds that the transaction was likely to lead to a substantial prevention or lessening of competition in the market. In particular, the CA held that the “market structure in the provision of commercial radio broadcasting services will be altered, and as such raises competition and public interest concerns”.

The CA does not, in its decision, elaborate specifically on what basis the proposed merger would likely lead to a lessening of competition in the market nor is there any mention of the public interest grounds upon which the CA prohibited the merger.

Regardless, the CA’s decision is clear affirmation that, like many competition agencies in Africa, it will not be seen to merely rubber-stamp mergers, but rather embark on substantive investigations in order to assess the impact of a particular transaction on the market, both in terms of traditional competition considerations and also on public interest grounds.

Accordingly, in light of the CA’s increasingly vigorous approach to merger control, firms who are potentially looking at potential mergers or acquisitions in Botswana need to take cognizance of the importance:

  • of ensuring that transactions are notified to the CA prior to implementing such a transaction; and
  • of ensuring that a comprehensive market and competitiveness report is submitted as part of the merger filing to ensure that the merging parties are best placed to demonstrate that a proposed transaction would not have adverse effects on competition in the market or on the public interest grounds.

In addition to engaging in increasingly substantive merger assessments, the CA has also demonstrated that it has the confidence and resources to tackle anti-competitive conduct practices as well as conduct market studies.

The Competition Authority of Botswana is, therefore, fast becoming one of Southern Africa’s more robust competition agencies.

 

 

 

 

SOUTH AFRICA: ZUMA’S STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS MAY BE HINT AT INTRODUCTION OF COMPLEX MONOPOLY PROVISIONS

While the media headlines are largely filled with the disruptions that took place at the State of the Nation Address (SONA) by President Jacob Zuma on 9 February 2017, the President made an important remark which, if true, may have a significant impact on competition law in South Africa, particular in relation to abuse of dominance cases.

In this regard, the President stated that:

During this year, the Department of Economic Development will bring legislation to Cabinet that will seek to amend the Competition Act. It will among others address the need to have a more inclusive economy and to de-concentrate the high levels of ownership and control we see in many sectors. We will then table the legislation for consideration by parliament.

In this way, we seek to open up the economy to new players, give black South Africans opportunities in the economy and indeed help to make the economy more dynamic, competitive and inclusive. This is our vision of radical economic transformation.”

Patel talksNeither the President nor Minister Patel have given any further clarity as to the proposed legislative amendments other than Patel’s remarks early in January 2017 in which he stated that:

The review covers areas such as the efficacy of the administration of the Competition Act, procedural aspects in the investigation and prosecution of offences, matters relating to abuse of dominance, more effective investigations against cartels and the current public interest provisions of the act.

Says John Oxenham, a competition attorney who has closely followed the legislative and policy developments, “despite the broad non-committal remarks by Minister Patel, it is clear that the Minister is zealous in having the ‘complex monopoly’ provisions brought into force to address in order to address, what the Minister perceives to be, significant abuse of dominance in certain concentrated markets.”

In terms of the provisions, as currently drafted, where five or less firms have 75% market share in the same market, a firm could be found to have engaged in prohibited conduct if any two or more of those firms collectively act in a parallel manner which has the effect of lessening competition in the market (i.e. by creating barriers to entry, charging excessive prices or exclusive dealing and “other market characteristics which indicate coordinated behavior”).

white-collar-crimeDespite having been promulgated in 2009, the ‘complex monopoly’ provisions have not yet been brought into effect largely due to the concerns raised as to how these provisions will be enforced, says Primerio Ltd.’s Andreas Stargard: “It is noteworthy that the introduction of criminal liability for directors and persons with management authority who engage in cartel conduct was also promulgated in 2009, but surprised most (including the Competition Authorities) when it was quite unexpectedly brought into force in 2016.”

Minister Patel was no doubt a key driving force behind the introduction of criminal liability and it would, therefore, not be surprising if the complex monopoly provisions are brought into force with equal swiftness in 2017.