Regional bloc’s antitrust enforcer further steps up investigations in the Common Market
By Gina Lodolo
On 16 June 2022, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (“COMESA”)’s Competition Commission (“CCC”) provided notice, as required by Article 22 of the COMESA Regulations (“Regulations”), that it launched an investigation into Toyota Tsusho Corporation (“Toyota”) in case no. CCC/ACBP/NI/3/2022.
Where the CCC has reason to believe that competition in the Common Market has been restrained, Article 22 of the Regulations requires the entity involved to be notified of the investigation, and further requires the investigation to be completed within 180 days of the notification. In this regard, the Toyota investigation was launched following allegations that the company contravened Article 16 of the Regulations. Article 16 (generally covering ‘restrictive business practices’) prohibits agreements that “may affect trade between Member States; and have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the Common Market”.
The specific conduct referred to by Dr. Willard Mwemba, the Director and Chief Executive Officer of COMESA — who has revitalised the relatively young antitrust authority’s conduct investigations and increased its caché internationally by following best practices and engaging competition practitioners globally in the agency’s development and capacity-building process — includes Toyota’s distribution agreements with its authorised distributors. These vehicle distributors sell Toyota cars, trucks, and spare parts across the region, within their contractually designated territories. In this regard, the CCC is now investigating suspicions that the distribution agreements violate Article 16 of the Regulations in various ways — they may:
• Provide prohibitions on authorised distributors to sell outside of allocated geographic areas;
• Prohibit authorised distributors from indirectly selling outside of allocated geographic areas through selling to third parties, who they suspect will sell or transfer to another territory; and
• Indicate resale price maintenance by providing prices of Toyota products in the Common Market.
Andreas Stargard, a competition partner at Primerio Ltd. said, “this development shows how ‘CCC 2.0’ is truly emerging as a fully-fledged African antitrust enforcement authority and not a mere merger ‘toll booth’ regulator, which it essentially was for the first few years of its existence. The CCC has come a long way from the early days and is now pursuing abuse-of-dominance cases that it would not have had the capacity to tackle a decade ago”. Stargard observes that the Toyota case is “now the 3rd announced anticompetitive-business practice investigation of the year 2022 so far,” which is an absolute record for the CCC. “We’re talking proper grey-market / parallel-export restriction and RPM investigations here, this is no longer just a merger-fee collections agency.”
The agency invites public comment and further insight into Toyota’s dealings by 30th of July. Interested parties are invited to make comments to the Commission by 30 July 2022.