Beyond Pure Competition Law – Is Africa Leading the Way Forward in Antitrust Enforcement?

To all our Africanantitrust followers, please take note of the upcoming American Bar Association webinar on 2 July 2019 (11amET/4pmUK/5pm CET) titled:

“Beyond Pure Competition Law – Is Africa Leading the Way Forward in Antitrust Enforcement?”

In what promises to be a highly topical (telecon) panel discussion, Eleanor Fox, Andreas Stargard, John Oxenham, Amira Abdel Ghaffar and Anthony Idigbe will:

  • provide critical commentary of the most recent developments in antitrust policy across the African continent;
  • highlight the most significant legislative amendments and enforcement activities in Africa; and
  • analyze some of the key enforcement decisions.

South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, COMESA and Kenya are among the key jurisdictions under the microscope.

Practitioners, agency representatives, academics and anyone who is an antitrust enthusiast will find this webinar to be of great interest. Not to mention companies actually active or looking to enter the African market place.

For details on how to participate, please follow this Link

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Breaking News: Nigerian Competition Act Signed into Law

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has signed the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill into law (the “Competition Act”).

nigeriaAfter years of deliberations, the legislative process is now complete, and with the establishment of a Competition Commission and Competition Tribunal, Nigeria is the latest African jurisdiction to establish a dedicated antitrust authority.

From a merger-control perspective, the Competition Act and the Commission’s jurisdiction will ultimately supersede the ‘placebo antitrust’ role historically played by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which has thus far received and assessed merger notifications above certain turnover thresholds, pursuant to the Investments and Securities Act.  The Act repeals the Consumer Protection Act, which did not contain stand-alone antitrust provisions.

Michael-James Currie, a competition lawyer advising clients across Africa, says the new Competition Act applies broadly to all commercial activities within Nigeria, but also to conduct outside of Nigeria (if the person or company is a Nigerian resident or incorporated in Nigeria or products are sold into Nigeria).  Furthermore, any acquisition or change of control of a business or asset outside of Nigeria which results in the change of control of an asset or business in Nigeria will also fall within the jurisdiction of the Competition Act.

The Commission has substantial powers, including considering and approving mergers, declaring business practices as amounting to abuse of dominance, prohibiting price discrimination or declaring unlawful any agreement which is in contravention of the Competition Act.

From an investigatory perspective, the Commission may subpoena witnesses or, upon obtaining a search warrant, conduct dawn raids, consistent with international best practices.

Any reviews or appeals in relation to a decision taken by the Commission may be made to the Competition Tribunal.

In relation to prohibited conduct, any agreement which has the effect or likely effect of preventing, restricting or distorting competition in any market is unlawful. Currie notes that the Act in particular prohibits collusive arrangements but also various forms of unilateral conduct include tying or bundling or limitations on the production or distribution of goods. John Oxenham, director at Primerio, echoes these sentiments and confirms that the Act provides for a rule-of-reason analysis.  He notes further that, in addition to the above general prohibitions, the Act also prohibits minimum resale price maintenance.

Fellow Primerio Director, Andreas Stargard, notes that the “monopolisation” prohibition against abuse of dominance mirrors those typically found in most jurisdictions; the wording of the Act appears to be influenced largely by the South African Competition Act.  That said, the test for dominance is essentially whether a firm is able to exert market power and, unlike South Africa, cannot be based on market-share thresholds alone.  In sum, he concludes:

“This latest piece of competition legislation was first introduced in 2011 by Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara from Bauchi State, who perhaps not surprisingly happens to be an attorney, and co-sponsored by Sen. Ahmed Lawan (Yobe North).

Its now final — and successful — iteration that was signed into law this week brings Africa’s largest economy into the fold of modern antitrust jurisdictions.  Many have called for this to happen for years [see hereand here).  Our firm’s West Africa team is eager to work on matters arising under the Act.”

The Bill's sponsor, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara

One of the Bill’s sponsors, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara

In terms of penalties, an antitrust violation attracts both a potential administrative penalty (capped at 10% of the respondent’s annual turnover) and criminal liability for directors who commit an offence, notes Currie, pointing to a  maximum of three years imprisonment as a fairly severe white-collar sentence potential.  It remains unclear to-date whether the turnover calculation for purposes of the administrative penalty determination refers to local or worldwide revenues, observes Stargard.

In relation to merger control, Oxenham notes that the Competition Act provides further clarity as to the type of transactions which require mandatory notification, notably including joint ventures, which were previously not identified by name under the SEC’s legislative regime.  The Act has introduced both de facto and de jure forms of control as potential triggers for merger notification. The Commission has not yet published Regulations which will prescribe turnover thresholds for “small” and “large” mergers. Both Oxenham and Currie point out that based on the wording of the Act, there seems to be a substantial amount of similarity between the Nigerian Act and the merger control process in South Africa including time frames involved and the introduction of public interest assessment in merger control.

This is not surprising, as the South African Competition Commission (SACC) has, through the African Competition Forum, been instrumental in advocating a robust competition regime. Furthermore, Oxenham suggests that there may be substantial amount of cooperation and assistance provided by the SACC to their Nigerian counterparts.

[AfricanAntitrust will provide further updates in relation to the Nigerian Competition Act and appreciates the input from leading antitrust practitioners and the on-going support of the Primerio team. To contact a Primerio representatives, please click here ]

Breaking: South African Competition Amendment Bill passed by Parliament

AAT has closely monitored the progress of the Competition Amendment Bill and provided commentary to the Bill from leading local and international competition practitioners.

This is to update our readers that the Amendment Bill was passed in the National Assembly on 23 October 2018. The Bill still requires the National Council of Provinces to approve the Bill, following that the President’s consent – both of these procedural steps are likely to be mere formalities in light of the National Assembly’s decision to approve the Bill.

AAT expects that the Bill will be brought into effect imminently and likely without any material grace period for parties to assure compliance with its onerous provisions.

The Bill passed by the National Assembly has been amend mended from the draft Bill which was placed before Parliament’s Portfolio Committee.  The key contentious provisions of the Bill, however, remain largely unchanged.

To access a copy of the Bill passed by Parliament, click here.

South Africa: Abuse of Dominance Investigations– Out with the Old, In with the New

The South African Competition Commission (SACC) recently announced that it would withdraw its complaint of abuse of dominance levelled against two of the four pharmaceutical companies who had allegedly engaged in excessive pricing in relation to certain cancer medications in South Africa.

The companies who were implicated in the SACC’s investigation were Roche and Genentech, Pfizer, Equity and Aspen.

The SACC indicated that it had withdrawn its complaint in respect of Aspen and Equity as the relevant products only generated a small portion of revenue in South Africa or in the case of Equity, the relevant product is not registered in South Africa and was only imported once into South Africa from Germany (which was the basis for the high price charged in South Africa). The complaint against Roche and Pfizer will, according to the SACC, continue.

In the same week, the SACC announced that it has launched an abuse of dominance investigation against Vodacom for engaging in exclusionary conduct. This investigation by the SACC is somewhat puzzling as it appears from the SACC’s media release that the reason why Vodacom is being investigated is on the basis that Vodacom had won a tender issued by the National Treasury to become the sole provider of mobile telecommunication services to the government.

The SACC alleges that previously, government departments could purchase mobile telecommunication services from any mobile network operator, but following the award of the tender to Vodacom, other departments, including state owned entities and municipalities, will be incentivised to adopt new contracts with Vodacom. In other words, Vodacom would either be precluding government departments or inducing them not to deal with Vodacom’s competitors in contravention of Section 8 of the Competition Act.

In order to sustain an exclusionary conduct complaint, it must be demonstrated that the alleged conduct was in fact anti-competitive and cannot be outweighed by any pro-competitive or other efficiency justifications.

Importantly, the SACC has not indicated that the actual tender process in any way distorted a competitive bid being submitted by Vodacom.

Accordingly, by being awarded the tender, particularly a public tender issued by the National Treasury, one would have anticipated that this would be indicative that Vodacom’s bid was the most competitive offering – why else sign the agreement in the first place. It could hardly be the case that the National Treasury was ‘forced’ into accepting Vodacom’s terms and if there was an irregularity with the tender process, then why lodge a complaint with the Competition Authorities. This would be a public procurement issue.

Accordingly, the message which seems to be imparted from the SACC’s decision to investigate Vodacom is that dominant firms should be particularly cautious about tendering for a particular bid – they may just win.

Although the investigation has only recently been announced by the SACC, Vodacom’s share price dropped 8% following news of the investigation. Regardless, of whether the complaint levelled against Vodacom has any merit, Vodacom is already paying a reputational price which in today’s day and age, can be significantly costly.

Kenya: Recent Amendments to the Act adds an Interesting Dimension to the Abuse of Dominance Provisions

Introduction of Abuse of ‘Buyer Power’ Provisions Muddies the Water

Ruth Mosoti

By Michael-James Currie and Ruth Mosoti

currie2

In November last year, the editors of Africanantitrust indicated that a number of amendments to the Kenya Competition Act of 2010 were being proposed by way of the Competition Amendment Bill (Amendment Bill) in the article Competition Amendment Bill to bring about Radical changes to the Act

The Amendment Bill was assented to by the President in December 2016 and the amendments are, therefore, effective.

Although most of the amendments which are particularly noteworthy were addressed in the above article, a particularly noteworthy amendment, and very much the focus of this article, is the newly introduced prohibition of an abuse of “buyer power”. In this regard, Section 24 of the Act, which deals with abuse of dominance generally, has been amended to also cater for an abuse of “buyer power.”

Section 24 of the Act was, even prior to the introduction of “buyer power” a particularly challenging provision to interpret and it has not been clear how the provisions relating to an abuse of dominance would ultimately be assessed.

By way of background, the definition of “dominance” in the Act, effectively states that a firm will be considered dominant if that firm has greater than 50% market share

The Act goes on to list, without being exhaustive, a number of practices which would typically constitute an abuse of dominance including:

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

The Act does not provide further guidance as to what would precisely constitute an “abuse” of dominance and under what circumstances a purchasing or selling price would be deemed to be “unfair”.

The abuse of dominance provisions do not necessarily, therefore, appear to be directly linked to the promotion or maintenance of competition in the market. Once it is shown that a firm has more than 50% market share, firms are in treacherous terrain as the threshold for engaging in “abuse” of dominance is relatively low when compared to many other comparable jurisdictions which generally cater for a rule of reason defence or at least provide greater guidance as to what conduct would constitute a per se violation.

By way of an example, in terms of the South Africa Competition Act, a dominant firm is per se prohibited from charging an “excessive price”. The South African Competition Act does, however, define an “excessive price” as one which “bears no reasonable relation to the economic value thereof”. Despite this definition, further guidance has been sought but the competition authorities as to what, in turn, constitutes a “reasonable” and “economic value.”

Over and above certain identified acts of abuse of dominance, the South African Competition Act also includes for a “catch-all” abuse of dominance provision. However, the conduct will only amount to an “abuse” if there is an anti-competitive effect which cannot be justified by a rule of reason analysis.

The comparison with the South African Competition Act is useful as the Kenyan Competition Act does not provide for a similar assessment as does its South African counter-part. For instance, it is not clear how predatory pricing or excessive pricing would be evaluated under the Kenyan Act. Presumably this would fall under the preclusion of charging an “unfair” selling price, which leads one back to the question as to what constitutes an “unfair” price.

In addition to the above, the recent addition of “buyer power” to the abuse of dominance provisions has added to the complexity and risk to firms on the procurement side.

“Buyer power” is defined as the “the influence exerted by an undertaking in the position or group of undertakings in the position of a purchaser of a product or service to obtain from a supplier more favourable terms, or to impose long term opportunity costs 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.

Furthermore, in considering whether a firm has “buyer power” the following factors will be considered:

  • the nature of the contractual terms;
  • the payment requested for access infrastructure; and
  • the price paid to suppliers.

Accordingly, the crux of the rather cumbersome definition is that an undertaking will only be considered to have “buying power” if that undertaking(s) has simultaneously actually abused its’ buying power. In other words, there is no distinction between what constitutes “buying power” and what constitutes an “abuse” of buying power. The Act’s definition of “buying power” is, therefore, all encompassing.

Although the above definition is somewhat unclear, it should be noted that the Competition Authority of Kenya, together with Parliament and other stakeholders intend developing rules which would hopefully clarify how these provisions will ultimately be evaluated.

A further important point to note is that it is not a requirement that a firm be ‘dominant’ in order to be considered to have “buying power”. Whether it was the intention of the legislator to require a firm to first be ‘dominant’ before it could be prosecuted for “abuse of buyer power” is not entirely clear. The definition of “buying power” is remarkably silent on this issue.

The fact that the preclusion of an abuse of buyer power necessitates that a firm be dominant could be inferred by the fact that provision is inserted under Section 24 (the abuse of dominance provisions).

However, the definition of “buyer power” caters for a situation where a group of undertakings, such as when a buying group, is formed, exert buyer power, the group commits an offence. Accordingly, it may have been that the legislator was contemplating a situation in which a group of undertakings, such as a buying group collectively meets the ‘dominance’ threshold (i.e. a greater than 50% market share).

Alternatively, it could have been the intention of the legislator that the abuse of buyer power has no direct link to dominance as such and that once a firm or group of firms satisfy the definition of “buyer power”, irrespective of their market shares, the provision is triggered.

In a number of developing countries such as Turkey, South Africa and Botswana have conducted market inquiries into the grocery retail sector. Although the focus of these inquiries are relatively broad, a common focus of all the market inquiries in this sector relates to the role that the large retailers play in the market. In particular, suppliers and competition agencies are often concerned with the buying power which large retailers could exert on suppliers and that the trading terms are unfair, particularly for smaller retailers who are not always in a position to pay for shelf space, access fees or offer the discounts demanded by the retailers.

In many instances, however, the large retailers are not ‘dominant’ and a complainant would need to demonstrate that the buying power exerted by the large retailer is in fact anti-competitive.

The Kenyan Competition Authority may have thought to pre-empt this challenge and therefore included the “abuse of dominance” provisions without requiring a firm to actually be dominant for the provision to be triggered. Furthermore, the definition of “buying power” and the absence of any requirement that the conduct must in fact be anti-competitive may have been an attempt by the legislator to lower the threshold in an effort to assist a complainant in cases where a purchaser, such as a large retailer, exerts “buyer power”, but is not “dominant” in the market.

The absence of any objective qualification to assess when a firm has exerted “buyer power” in an “unfair” manner may open the litigation floodgates. A further reason why it is important that the authorities publish rules to assist with the interpretation and implementation of the “abuse of buyer” power provisions.

In terms of enforcement, the Act was previously silent on the role of the Authority upon the conclusion of an abuse of dominance investigation and the only option lay on criminal prosecution of the offending undertaking. The recent amendments to the Act now allows the Authority to impose fines of up to 10% of the annual turnover of the offending undertaking(s).

Kenyan cabbies complain: The Uber competition saga reaches East Africa

Uber Africa: Increased competitiveness not a boon for entrenched monopolies

new multi-part seriesContinuing our AAT multi-part series on innovation & antitrust we turn once again to the ubiquitous “Sharing Economy” we are witnessing not only in the United States and Europe but also on the African continent…

“The taxi industry is in the midst of a crisis. Once protected by a regulated monopoly of the commercial passenger motor vehicle transportation market, the industry now faces increasing competition from a new type of transportation service—ride-sharing. The emergence of companies like Uber, the most successful ride-sharing company, threatens to eliminate the taxi industry’s stronghold on the ground transportation market and possibly the industry itself.” (Erica Taschler, Institute for Consumer Antitrust Studies, in “A Crumbling Monopoly: The Rise of Uber and the Taxi Industry’s Struggle to Survive“)

April 14, 2015 Associated Press file photo, Nairobi, Kenya

Today, the Taxi Cab Association of Kenya announced protests against the “unfair competition” its members face from ride-sharing giant Uber, according to the organisation’s chairman, Josphat Olila.  This is no news for folks in London, Brussels, Hamburg, or Washington — places where the taxi-medallion-capped brethren of Nairobi’s cabbies have all long ago gone through the protest phase against the rising tide of the “new economy’s” novel way of hailing cars.  Examples abound, and all involve more or less refined antitrust arguments.

Andreas Stargard, an attorney with Africa competition advisors Primerio, sums it up as follows: “The pro-competitive notion of innovation-plus-price competition is perhaps best understood by looking at the views of two leading antitrust agencies, the FTC and the European Commission.   Both have articulated simple and sound arguments for striking the right balance between regulatory limits for the protection of passengers, as well as allowing innovative technologies to enhance the competitive landscape and thereby increasing transportation options for riders.  In antitrust law, more options usually equal better outcomes.

U.S.

Here is what the U.S. Federal Trade Commission had to say in 2013 about the D.C. taxi commission’s ‘unfair competition’ argument against ride-sharing services:

“The staff comments recommend that DCTC avoid unwarranted regulatory restrictions on competition, and that any regulations should be no broader than necessary to address legitimate public safety and consumer protection concerns.  … [T]he comments recommend that DCTC allow for flexibility and experimentation and avoid unnecessarily limiting how consumers can obtain taxis.”

Crucially, the Kenyan cabbies’ argument that Uber should be banned is based on price competition from Uber’s lower fares.  One of the main tenets of competition law is: lower prices are good for consumers (in general), as long as service quality remains the same.  With Uber in the mix, quality arguably increases beyond the sad status quo of smelly and difficult-to-hail cabs: for one, users now are able to know when and where their car arrives, quality control via Uber’s policies and check-ups is available, convenient electronic billing & dispute resolution exists, etc.

Let’s go back to the FTC’s public comments and see their take:

“Competition and consumer protection naturally complement and mutually reinforce each other, to the benefit of consumers. Consumers benefit from market competition, which creates incentives for producers to be innovative and responsive to consumer preferences with respect to price, quality, and other product and service characteristics. As the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized, the benefits of competition go beyond lower prices: ‘The assumption that competition is the best method of allocating resources in a free market recognizes that all elements of a bargain – quality, service, safety, and durability – and not just the immediate cost, are favorably affected by the free opportunity to select among alternative offers’.”

EU DG COMP

Former Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes would agree wholeheartedly with the above, and indeed said in 2014 that she was “outraged at the decision by a Brussels court to ban Uber.”  In her personal op-ed piece, published on the EU Commission’s web site under the catchy title “Crazy court decision to ban Uber in Brussels“, she poignantly had this to tell the Belgian Mobility Minister who signed off on the Uber ban:

“This decision is not about protecting or helping passengers – it’s about protecting a taxi cartel.  The relevant Brussels Regional Minister is Brigitte Grouwels. Her title is “Mobility Minister”.  Maybe it should be “anti-Mobility Minister”. She is even proud of the fact that she is stopping this innovation. It isn’t protecting jobs Madame, it is just annoying people!”

We wonder what would happen if Neelie Kroes were Kenyan government minister…

Kenya: Keep prices high and ‘foreign’ competition out?

The Kenyan Taxi Association does not see it that way, just like its D.C. counterpart did not some 3 years ago.  However, D.C.’s streets are still full of old-fashioned cabs, and Uber — while popular — is still far from blowing out the light shone by the once-prized cabbie medallions…

Still, the Kenyan association claims that between 4,000 and up to 15,000 taxi drivers face job extinction due to lower prices charged by Uber, which has been active in Nairobi since the beginning of 2015.  Again, the “lower price” argument is a red herring under even the most basic application of competition economics, which shows that innovation-based price competition is ultimately pro-competitive and good not only for the end consumer but also the industry’s development as a whole.

Sadly, antitrust law — even in a fairly developed competition-law jurisdiction like Kenya — does not always prevail (again, see the occidental examples of Brussels, Hamburg, London, or even Baltimore, where the cabbies ironically sued Uber in an antitrust lawsuit, alleging that the so-called ‘Surge Pricing’ mechanism amounts to per se illegal price-fixing…).

The Kenyan taxi-cab organisation not only claims that the livelihoods of its members are at stake, but also “questioned the protocols followed by the foreign investors behind Uber, saying they were not consulted before the service provider entered the market,” according to an article in the Kenyan Daily Nation.  The association’s spokesman is quoted as saying: “We have loans to service, families to feed, children to educate and other responsibilities to cater for and we are not ready to leave the transport industry to a foreigner and render [ourselves] jobless while we are in a democratic republic.”

So in the end, the ‘unfair taxi competition’ argument devolves into xenophobia and mistrust.  Sadder yet, Kenya’s Uber fight has now taken a violent turn: Yesterday, an Interior Ministry spokesman said that there had been reports of attacks on Uber drivers, which are being investigated.

AAT of course deplores the resort to violence and trusts that neither it nor the upcoming protests will impede the progress of competitiveness in Kenya, a country that otherwise prides itself on encouraging competition (see CNBC Africa video on “East African competitiveness”).  The sole glimmer of hope we see consists of the closing line of the Daily Nation piece, which notes that “[t]he drivers have also promised to come up with their own version of Uber to connect taxi drivers in the country.”  That is what innovation is all about: Uber innovates, others copy (be it Lyft or the Kenyan cabbies), and everyone is better off in the final analysis.

 

Protecting competition vs. competitors: Calls for an EAC competition regime

Protecting competition vs. competitors: Calls for an EAC competition regime

In an opinion piece by Elizabeth Sisenda, a competition lawyer at the Centre for International Trade, Economics and Environment, the author calls for region-wide adoption, implementation, and enforcement of competition law, for the greater good of local business in the East African Community.  While generally in favour of increased competition-law recognition in Africa, we at AAT believe that there may be a protectionist undertone in the editorial, however:

Ms. Sisenda notably writes, “The EU has been negotiating a bilateral agreement with the EAC … Local firms stand to lose to foreign firms with greater capacity under the agreement in agriculture, retail, horticulture, fisheries, textile and clothing, dairy, and meat — if adequate safeguards are not established under the agreement.  This brings to light the need to enhance a competitive regional economy within the EAC through the implementation of a regional competition law regime to protect consumers and small enterprises from unfair business practices.

As antitrust attorneys will be quick to point out, pure competition law does not invariably act to protect small companies against so-called “unfair” competition by larger (or foreign) entities.  Granted, certain abuses of dominance or — of course — cartelist conduct is prohibited by proper antitrust legislation.  However, the mere arrival of a more powerful competitor in a local economy does not amount to “unfair competition” per se.  If a larger company can source its products and inputs at a lower cost than a local, established entity (say, Wal Mart compared to a ‘mom-and-pop’ corner store), this may hurt the incumbent but is not necessarily unlawful.

Calls for “African” competition enforcement must be careful not to commingle the notions of protectionism of domestic incumbents with actual competition-law enforcement.

UPDATE: Ms. Sisenda, the author of the original article, wishes to clarify that by “adequate safeguard” her intention was not protectionism but ensuring that dominant firms do not undertake anti-competitive practices such as price-fixing, raising barriers to entry or other illicit conduct.  She is clear in disavowing any notion of protectionism that AAT might have perceived, noting that “By using the term ‘unfair business practices,’ I did not impute any regulatory measures to prop local entities and lock out foreign firms. I simply meant abuse of dominance by more capable foreign firms such as predatory pricing.”

Andreas Stargard, a partner at Africa advisory practice Pr1merio, agrees with Miss Sisenda on two key points, however.  Says Stargard:

The author correctly notes that “there is still a quest for protectionism by the governments of some of the EAC member states.”  Truly anti-competitive practices must be curbed, whereas the inefficient protection of smaller incumbent domestic companies versus more efficient new entrants must not be encouraged.  In the words of one influential court, over 53 years ago, good antitrust laws are designed to protect “competition, not competitors”

Moreover, Ms. Sisenda rightly points to the great need within the EAC (and elsewhere in Africa) for “capacity-building at the national and regional level in support of the … competition regime, which might involve training personnel on competition law and policy and its enforcement.”  Workshops and publications such as AfricanAntitrust.com aid greatly in these efforts, including raising awareness of the need for proper competition-law enforcement, what it can do and also what it cannot accomplish on its own.

The EAC Competition Authority has an interim organisational structure & budget and is expected to start being operational next year.

PS: we note that Ms. Sisenda also raised, in our follow-up conversation with her, some notable questions that we invite our readers or future contributing authors (maybe Ms. Sisenda herself?) to address:

  • In your view, are there any parameters to antitrust such as exemptions granted under legislation for the purpose of promoting economic efficiency (be it allocative or productive) that are justified?
  • Is there a place for economic regulation in antitrust?

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COMESA foreshadows first substantive sector study, potential cartel enforcement

Retail antitrust: “mushrooming” shopping malls vs. SMEs, and possible cartel follow-on enforcement on the horizon for CCC

As reported in the Swazi Observer and other news outlets, the COMESA Competition Commission (“CCC”) recently expressed an interest in investigating the effect that larger shopping malls have had on competition in the common market’s retail sector.

This is one of the first non-M&A investigations undertaken by the CCC, according to a review of public sources.  While observers in the competition-law community have witnessed several merger notifications (and clearances) under COMESA jurisdiction, there has been no conduct enforcement by the young CCC to speak of.  Indeed, CCC executive director George Lipimile stated at a conference in November 2014: “Since we commenced operations in January, 2013 the most active provisions of the Regulations has been the merger control provisions.”  Andreas Stargard, an attorney with the boutique Africa consultancy Pr1merio, notes:

“Looking at the relative absence of enforcement against non-merger conduct (such as monopolisation, unilateral exclusionary practices, cartels, information exchanges among competitors or other conduct investigations), this new ‘shopping mall sectoral inquiry‘ may thus mark the first time the CCC has become active in the non-merger arena — a development worth following closely.  Moreover, the head of the CCC also announced future enforcement action against cartels, albeit only those previously uncovered in other jurisdictions such as South Africa, it appears from his prepared remarks.”

The CCC’s interest in the mall sector was revealed during one of the agency’s “regional sensitisation workshops” for business journalists (AAT previously reported on one of them here).  At the event, Lipimile is quoted as follows:

“The little shops in the locations seem to be slowly disappearing because everybody is going into shopping malls. And these shopping malls and the shops in them are mostly owned by foreigners.”

The investigation will take a sampling from the economies of several of the 19 COMESA member states and attempt to determine whether the “mushrooming” growth of shopping malls negatively affects local small and medium enterprises in the whole common market.

Rajeev Hasnah, a Pr1merio consultant, former Commissioner of the CCC and previously Chief Economist & Deputy Executive Director of the Competition Commission of Mauritius, commented that,

“Conducting market studies is one of the functions of the CCC and it is indeed commendable that the institution would contemplate on conducting such a study in the development of shopping malls across the COMESA region.  I believe that this will then enable the institution to correctly identify and appreciate the competition dynamics in the operations of shopping malls and the impact they have on the economy in general.  The study should also identify whether there are areas of concerns where the CCC could initiate investigations to enable competition to flourish to the benefit of businesses, consumers and the economy in general.  We look forward to the undertaking of such a study and its findings.”

AAT agrees with this view and welcomes the notion of the CCC commencing substantive non-merger investigations.  We observe, however, that the initial reported statements on the part of the CCC tend to show that there is the potential for dangerous local protectionist motives to enter into the legal competition analysis.  As Mr. Lipimile stated at the conference:

“Though [the building of malls] might be seen as a good thing, it may negatively impact on our local entrepreneurship and might lead to poverty. Before shopping malls were built, local entrepreneurs realised sales from their products.  Now malls are taking over. … [A] strong competition policy can be an effective tool to promote social inclusion and reduce inequalities as it tends to open up more affordable options for consumers, acting as an automatic stabiliser for prices”

That said, Mr. Lipimile also stated at the same event, quite astutely, that a “solid competition framework provides a catalyst to increase productivity as it generates the right incentives to attract the most efficient firms.”  In the rational view of antitrust law & economics, if — after an objective review such as the study announced by the CCC — the “most efficient” firm happens to be a larger shopping mall that does not otherwise foreclose equally effective competition, then the Darwinian survival of the fittest in a market economy must not be impeded by regulatory intervention.

George Lipimile, CEO, COMESA Competition Commission

George Lipimile, CEO, COMESA Competition Commission

Mr. Lipimile himself seemed to agree in November 2014, when he said that the 19-member COMESA jurisdiction must have regard to “its trading partners [which] go beyond the Common Market hence, it requires consensus building and a balancing act.”  At this time, “when regional integration is occupying the centre stage as one of the key economic strategies and a rallying point for the development of the African continent,” domestic protectionist strategies have no place in antitrust & competition law.  Said Mr. Lipimile: “[R]egional integration can only be realized by supporting a strong competition culture in the Common Market,” which would not support a more reactionary, closed tactic of a regulatory propping-up of “domestic champions” versus more efficient foreign competition.  As the CCC head recognised, “[t]he purpose of competition law is to facilitate competitive markets, so as to promote economic efficiency, thereby generate lower prices, increase choice and economic growth and thus enhance the welfare of the general community.”

UNCTAD report evaluates antitrust efforts in Namibia

namibia

 

 

 

Extensive UNCTAD report highlights state of Namibian competition enforcement, comes at right time when Namibia ponders inclusion of “unfairness” standard in merger control

A.S.

Following the release of the final UNCTAD report (entitled “Voluntary Peer Review of Competition Law and Policy: Namibia“), the report’s sponsors organised a gathering of interested parties in mid-February in Windhoek, the Namibian capital, for a “dissemination event” of the report.

The event included a session on “various elements of knowledge management systems,” for which the the South African Competition Commission was selected to serve as an exemplary agency.  The Namibia Competition Commission presented a plan for implementing the Report’s recommendations.  This plan will form part of the agency’s overall strategic planning framework “Smart enforcement, smart advocacy and smart research” that is to be launched by June 2015.

In attendace was, among others, the country’s Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Tjekero Tweya.  Participants were invited to attend two round tables discussions on the intersection and complementarities of competition policy and consumer protection; and strengthening cooperation between different government bodies to improve competition enforcement in Namibia.

Can Report avert devolution of merger-control regime into extrajudicial “fairness” criteria?
Substantively, AAT welcomes further and deeper discussion of true antitrust/competition law issues in Namibia wholeheartedly.  We reported last year that a crucial revision of the Namibian competition law includes consumer-protection provisions that would potentially bar M&A deals not only on pure antitrust grounds but also on a more broadly defined “unfairness” basis.
The cited Report contains two relevant statistics, showing the relatively young enforcement agency’s workload in absolute terms as well as in relative (merger vs. other enforcement work) numbers:

Namibia stats

Namibia stats comparison

 

Government-mandated sharing of trade secrets: anticompetitive interference

south_africa

Ms. Zulu proposes foreign competitors share trade secrets with SA counterparts

Perhaps it is time for increased advocacy initiatives within the South African government, or at a minimum a basic educational program in competition law for all its sitting ministers.
In what can only be described as startling (and likely positively anticompetitive), Lindiwe Zulu, the S.A. Minister of Small Business, has demanded foreign business owners to reveal their trade secrets to their smaller rivals.
The South African Competition Commission, and perhaps one of the Minister’s own fellow Cabinet members, minister Ebrahim Patel, who is de facto in charge of the competition authorities, can see fit to remind Ms. Zulu that fundamental antitrust law principles (and in particular section 4 of the South African Competition Act), preclude firms in a horizontal relationship from sharing trade secrets that are competitively sensitive – i.e., precisely those types of information Ms. Zulu now proposes to be shared mandatorily amongst competitors.
While SACC has utilized this provision with much success against big business in South Africa, it would be remiss not enforce the provisions of the Act without fear or favor should the traders act out on the instruction of the Minister.  It is also time that the Cabinet seeks to enforce business practices which comply with South African legislation.
BDLive‘s Khulekani Magubane reports in today’s edition (“Reveal trade secrets, minister tells foreigners“) that “foreign business owners in SA’s townships cannot expect to co-exist peacefully with local business owners unless they share their trade secrets, says Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu.”

Lindiwe Zulu. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

Lindiwe Zulu. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

“In an interview on Monday she said foreign business owners had an advantage over South African business owners in townships. This was because local business owners had been marginalised and been offered poor education and a lack of opportunities under apartheid.

“Foreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost. A platform is needed for business owners to communicate and share ideas. They cannot barricade themselves in and not share their practices with local business owners,” Ms Zulu said.”

Research fellow at the SA Institute for International Affairs Peter Draper said Ms Zulu’s remarks, underscored government’s mistrust of foreign investors which was also reflected in business regulations. “If you connect this to the broader picture, essentially this is part of a thrust to single out foreign business, which is contrary to the political message President Jacob Zuma went to portray in Davos. We are at a tipping point and we are going beyond it. You can only push foreign business so far before they disengage,” he said.Mr Draper agreed with Ms Zulu’s remarks on the effect of apartheid on local business owners in townships but said foreign business owners had to confront their own challenges with little state support.

“Apartheid did disadvantage black people and over generations it inhibited social capital. Many foreigners have trading entrenched in their blood. Wherever they go they bring social capital, networks and extended family. Is that unfair? I don’t think so. That’s life,” he said.

Ms Zulu’s comments show the about-turn in the African National Congress’ (ANC’s) ideology of Pan Africanism and in line with remarks by party leaders.

After a week of looting in Soweto last week, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told residents in Doornkop that immigration laws needed to be strengthened to protect the country from terror.

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