Notifying African M&A – balancing burdens & costs

Merger filings in Africa remain costly and cumbersome

By AAT guest contributor Heather Irvine, Esq.

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Competition Commission (COMESA) recently announced that it has received over US$3 million in merger filing fees between December 2015 and October 2016.

heatherirvineAbout half of these fees (approximately $1.5 million) were allocated to the national competition authorities in various COMESA states. However, competition authorities in COMESA member states – including Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe – continue to insist that merging parties lodge separate merger filings in their jurisdiction. This can add significant transactional costs – the filing fee in Kenya alone for a merger in which the merging parties combined generate more than KES 50 billion (about US $ 493 million) in Kenya is KES 2 million (nearly US $ 20 000). Since Kenya is one of the Continent’s largest economies, significant numbers of global transactions as well as those involving South African firms investing in African businesses are caught in the net.

Merging parties are in effect paying African national competition authorities twice to review exactly the same proposed merger. And they are not receiving quicker approvals or an easier fling process in return. Low merger thresholds mean that even relatively small transactions, often with no impact on competition at all, may trigger multiple filings. There is no explanation for why COMESA member states have failed to amend their local competition laws despite signing the COMESA treaty over 2 years ago.

Filing fees are even higher if a proposed cross-border African merger transaction involves a business in Tanzania or Swaziland– the national authorities there have recently insisted that filing fees must be calculated based on the merging parties’ global turnover (even though the statutory basis for these demands are not clear).

The problem will be exacerbated even further if more regional African competition authorities, like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the proposed East African Competition authority, commence active merger regulation.

Although memoranda of understanding were recently signed between South Africa and some other relatively experienced competition regulators on the Continent, like Kenya and Namibia, there are generally few formal procedures in place to harmonise merger filing requirements, synchronise the timing of reviews or align the approach of the regulators to either competition law or public interest issues.

The result is high filing fees, lots of duplicated effort and documents on the part of merging parties and the regulators, and slow merger reviews.

If African governments are serious about attracting global investors, they should prioritise the harmonisation of national and regional competition law regimes.

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Cooperation, handshakes & MoUs: all the rage in African antitrust?

AAT the big picture

Significant Strides made to Promote Harmonisation across African Competition Agencies

By AAT Senior Contributor, Michael-James Currie.

In the past 12 months there has been a steady drive by competition law agencies in Africa to promote harmonisation between the respective jurisdictions.

The African regional competition authority, the COMESA Competition Commission (CCC), has entered into memorandum of understandings with a number of its nineteen member states. On 5 June 2016, it was announced that the CCC has further concluded MoU’s with the Swaziland Competition Commission as well as the Fair Trade Commission of the Seychelles.

On 7 May 2016, it was announced that nine members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have also entered into and MoU. These member states include South Africa, Malawi, Botswana, Swaziland, Seychelles, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Zambia.

The SADC MoU was based on the 2009 SADC Declaration on Regional Cooperation and Consumer Policies.

SADC MoUAccording to the South African Competition Commissioner, Mr Tembinkosi Bonakele, the MoU creates a framework for cooperation enforcement within the SADC region.  “The MoU provides a framework for cooperation in competition enforcement within the SADC region and we are delighted to be part of this historic initiative,” said Bonakele.

Interestingly, although a number of the signatories to SADC MoU are not member states of COMESA (that is, South Africa and Namibia, who in turn, have a MoU between their respective competition authorities), Swaziland, Malawi and the Seychelles have existing MoU’s with the COMESA Competition Commission. Says Andreas Stargard, a competition practitioner with Primerio Ltd., “it will be interesting to see, first, whether there may be conflicts that arise out of the divergent patchwork of cooperation MoUs, and second, to what extent the South African Competition Authorities, for example, could indirectly benefit from the broader cooperation amongst the various jurisdiction and regional authorities.”

Part of the objectives of the MoUs to date has largely been to facilitate an advocacy role. However, from a practical perspective, the SADC MoU envisages broader information exchanges and coordination of investigations.

While the MoU’s are a positive stride in achieving cross-border harmonisation, it remains to be seen to what extent the collaboration will assist the respective antitrust agencies in detecting and prosecuting cross border anticompetitive conduct.

There may be a number of practical and legal hurdles which may provide challenges to the effective collaboration envisaged. The introduction of criminal liability for cartel conduct in South Africa, for example, may provide challenges as to how various agencies obtain and share evidence.

Dawn raids on the increase across Africa

By Michael-James Currie and Jenna Foley

March 2016 has been a busy month for the competition agencies of South Africa and Kenya respectively. Both agencies carried out search and seizure operations as a result of alleged collusion within various sectors of the economy. While the March dawn raids are not connected, the South African Competition Authority, as part of its advocacy outreach, provided training to the Competition Authority of Kenya relating to inter alia, search and seizure operations.

South Africa

On 23 March 2016, the South African Competition Commission carried out search and seizure operations in the automotive glass fitment industry, as part of its continued investigation into alleged collusion within this sector.

Accordingy to the SACC, the raid was carried out “at the Gauteng premises of PG Glass, Glasfit, Shatterprufe and Digicall as part of its investigation of alleged collusion. PG Glass and Glasfit are automotive glass fitment and repair service providers; Shatterprufe supplies PG Glass and Glasfit with automotive glass while Digicall processes and administers automotive glass related insurance claims on behalf of PG Glass and Glasfit.”

John Oxenham, founding director of Pr1merio, notes that “[t]his most recent dawn raid follows on from those carried out towards the latter part of 2014 and 2015 and confirms that the SACC has adopted a more robust approach to investigating alleged anti-competitive practices.” In this regard, Commissioner, Tembinkosi Bonakele, confirmed at the 9th Annual Competition, Law, Economics and Policy Conference in November last year that the Competition Commission has in the past two years, “conducted more dawn raids than those conducted in preceding years since the Competition Commission came into existence” (nearly 16 years ago).

For an overview of dawn raids and cartel investigations in South Africa, please see the following GCR Article.

Kenya

This month the Competition Authority of Kenya (“CAK”) conducted its first dawn raid. The search and seizure operations were carried out in respect of two fertiliser firms, Mea Limited and the Yara East Africa, based on the CAK’s suspicion of price fixing occurring between these two firms, who together control approximately 60% of the fertiliser market.   The CAK conducted the raid in accordance with Section 32 of the Competition Act, 2011 which provides for the Authority to enter any premises in which persons are believed to be in possession of relevant information and documents and inspect the premises and any goods, documents and records situated thereon. This follows an inquiry which was launched last year by Kenyan competition authorities into what the CAK termed “powerful trade associations exhibiting cartel-like behaviour specifically targeting banks, microfinance institutions, forex bureaus, capital markets as well as the agricultural and insurance lobbies”.  The fact that the CAK has carried out its first dawn raid demonstrates its growing stature.

The fertiliser industry appears to be a priority sector for a number of African jurisdictions as the CAK’s investigation into this sector follows the South African Competition Commission’s investigation into the fertiliser industry (which resulted in a referral before to the South African Competition Tribunal for adjudication some years back). In this regard, the South African Competition Commission’s spokesperson stated that the “fertiliser sector is viewed as a priority sector, due to the its importance as an input in the agricultural sector” (as reported here on African antitrust)

Zambia

Interestingly, the Zambian Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (“CCPC”) had, in 2012, conducted dawn raids at the premises of two fertiliser companies, as a result of alleged collusion within the industry.

On a Path to Harmonisation?

While there are a number of practical and legislative hurdles to effectively carrying out cross border search and seizure operations, it appears that cross border investigations may not be too far off. This is particularly so as the various agencies within the Southern African Region have identified similar priority sectors (as evidenced by both the investigations into the fertiliser sectors as well as the various market inquiries into the grocery retail sector).