As we previously reported, long-time COMESA Competition Commission executive, Dr. Willard Mwemba, was recently promoted to his new role of permanent CEO of the CCC, after having been appointed Acting Director in February of this year. In this new capacity, he recently gave a thus-far unreported speech on the occasion of “World Competition Day” on December 5th, 2021.
In his short address, Dr. Mwemba lays out the mid-term future he envisions for the antitrust policy under his aegis in the Common Market, as follows.
Highlighting the importance of competition law for efficient and fair markets, with the goal of benefiting businesses (as opposed to being perceived as an impediment to business interests), Mwemba mentions key building blocks of the CCC’s enforcement going forward. These include resale-price maintenance and exclusive-dealing enforcement (around 1-1:30 in the little-known video, which has thus far only garnered two dozen views on the YouTube platform and is not yet published on the CCC’s own web site). He then moves on to merger regulation (2:45 onward), and further discusses the importance of the effectiveness of the actual competition law itself — noting that the CCC plans to amend its Regulations and Guidelines within the next year (3:40). Noting that the CCC cannot undertake this process very well alone, Mwemba highlights the cooperative approach of the Commission, partnering with and relying on other groups and stakeholders (such as the COMESA Women in Business group, OECD, and others).
Mwemba notes that the CCC’s “focus for the year 2022 will be on strict enforcement, especially against blatant anti-competitive conduct and blatant violations of the COMESA Competition Regulations, and in this case I mean cartels. It is said that cartels are the supreme evil of antitrust … because it robs consumers, government, and businesses of huge sums… So in line with this theme, our focus for 2022 shall be on cartels, and we shall make sure that we weed out all possible or potential cartels operating in the Common Market.”
The CCC chief concludes his address by saying that competition authorities “are not there to frustrate businesses, we are not the enemy of business”; instead, he sees the CCC’s role to ensure that markets operate fairly for all — a welcome reminder to the southern and eastern African business community to understand and embrace the precepts of antitrust law as an efficiency-enhancing mechanism for trading in the Common Market.
Will there be a copy-cat to COMESA’s competition-law enforcer?
As the Tanzania Daily News reports (via AllAfrica, as TDN’s web site seems to be down at the moment), the Tanzanian Minister for industry and trade, Dr. Abdallah Kigoda (pictured), emphasized the importance of competition law policy across the entire East African Community (“EAC”) region during a speech yesterday.
He reportedly stated at the inaugural meeting of the “Accelerating Implementation of EAC Competition Policy and Law Project” (that’s a mouthful) that:
“[i]t is difficult for a single country to deal with the competition policy and therefore it is vital to go for a well functioning competition policy that will help curb anti-competition practices by not only domestic firms but also regional and large multinational corporation (MNGs) and international cartels.”
This sentence is somewhat incomplete, in our grammatical view — but it seems to be a thinly-veiled call for a trans-national, region-wide competition policy. This would be notable insofar as the following two premises are considered:
One need not look far in the region to find a good example: There is a very recent case of a functioning competition policy and enforcement body in the east-African region, namely: COMESA’s Competition Commission (“CCC”), which became operational in January 2013.
Go figure…! We at AfricanAntitrust.com are all for sensible competition-law enforcement. Yet, one would hope that the EAC (and Tanzania) do not plan to emulate the COMESA example and create yet another — presumptively conflicting — regional antitrust body in eastern Africa, lest the will of corporate investors to grow their businesses in the region be completely stifled by the rampant growth of competing antitrust jurisdictions in the area, seeking to extract merger-filing fees and/or fines for contraventions from established economic actors.
Do we think this is a probable threat?No. But it’s worth writing about, when statements like the one quoted above are made by officials acting on behalf of national governments and, indeed, supra-national bodies.
Why don’t we think it’s a likely problem?Because all of the other EAC members** are already COMESA member states, and would have to suffer from the governmental equivalent of schizophrenia to subscribe to two separate supra-national competition regimes, in addition to their own domestic ones (to the extent they exist).
What’s an alternative interpretation? Hmm, could Tanzania be considering re-joining COMESA?