China's antitrust enforcement agencies were reorganised in 2018. As such, new legislation and enforcement actions in 2019 attracted significant attention from practitioners and in-house counsel, with a view to gaining an insight into the new agency's enforcement trends and priorities (if any). This article underlines the most significant developments in legislation, public enforcement and private litigation in 2019.
The topic of whether antitrust civil disputes are arbitrable has been hotly debated in China in recent years. There are few case law precedents in this regard and local courts have taken different positions regarding this issue. That said, the Supreme People's Court made its stance clear in a recent decision which found that an arbitration clause could not exclude the jurisdiction of Chinese courts in antitrust civil disputes.
A violation of the notification or standstill obligation is commonly called 'gun jumping' and can have significant legal consequences. This article examines Canon's acquisition of Toshiba Medical and the legal consequences of gun jumping in China, as well as the risks of implementing a transaction 'by steps' to circumvent the standstill rules. Recent strengthened enforcement measures are also briefly examined.
The State Administration for Market Supervision recently promulgated the Interim Provisions for Prohibiting Monopoly Agreements. Although the draft provisions introduced a safe harbour clause for non-IP-related monopoly agreements, this has been removed from the final version. As debate continues as to whether to introduce a safe harbour clause to Chinese legislation, this article examines the history of the safe harbour rule and the potential reasons why it would not apply to all monopoly agreements.
The Ministry of Commerce of China recently announced the establishment of an Unreliable Entity List (UEL) targeting foreign entities and individuals that (among other things) fail to comply with the principles of the market economy or threaten China's national security. It is anticipated that the UEL will rely heavily on the Anti-monopoly Law, especially in relation to foreign entities with a noticeable market presence in China.
The Shanghai Market Regulation Bureau (SMRB) recently issued a penalty decision addressed to Eastman (China) Investment Management Co, Ltd, a Chinese subsidiary of US Chemical firm Eastman Chemical Company. Since this is the first antitrust enforcement decision to be issued by the SMRB since its establishment, it has drawn significant attention from commentators who have attempted to identify the bureau's enforcement approach.
Although still fairly new, the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) diligently investigated and penalised monopolistic behaviour in 2018, publishing a dozen cases alongside its local enforcement agencies which attracted media attention. Notably, livelihood-related industries (including the pharmaceutical industry) and trade associations appeared to come under the SAMR's spotlight.
The National People's Congress recently passed and published revisions to the Anti-unfair Competition Law. The revisions focus primarily on trade secret infringement, as trade secrets are regarded as one of the core competitive advantages in today's business world. The main amendments include widening the definition of 'infringer', increasing penalties for infringement and alleviating the burden of proof for plaintiffs.
The refusal of the Chinese antitrust authority to green light the Qualcomm/NXP merger garnered significant attention and shone a spotlight on China's merger review practice, particularly with regard to the chip industry. This article provides an overview of Chinese merger control by examining the major chip industry mergers that the former Ministry of Commerce and the current State Administration for Market Regulation have approved with remedies to date.
In 2018 the newly formed State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) maintained a rigorous and prudent attitude towards merger control review. There was a significant increase in the number of cases concluded and the efficiency with which they were done so. As regards the cases which were conditionally approved, the SAMR imposed various tailored conditions. In addition, the SAMR investigated more non-filing cases and imposed more penalties on non-filers compared with 2017.
China reached a number of Anti-monopoly Law enforcement and development milestones in 2018. For example, the newly established State Administration for Market Regulation completed the consolidation of the country's former government antitrust agencies and amended a number of Anti-monopoly Law regulations. Although this institutional reform took a significant amount of time, public enforcement remained active. In addition, there were a number of private antitrust enforcement developments.
The newly established State Administration for Market Regulation recently embarked on its first major overhaul of procedural rules by publishing the draft Interim Provisions on Administrative Penalty Procedures in Market Regulation and the related interim measures for public comment. Unsurprisingly, market observers and practitioners promptly examined the draft documents in an attempt to deduce any changes to the intended-to-be-repealed State Administration for Industry and Commerce rules.
The Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court recently issued its judgment in the private antitrust litigation brought by domestic software company Shenzhen Micro Source Code Software Development Co Ltd (SMSCSD) against tech giant Tencent. SMSCSD had alleged that Tencent possessed a dominant position in the China mainland market for mobile instant messaging and social platform services and had abused this dominance by blocking its WeChat Official Accounts and engaging in discriminatory practices.
China's rise to prominence as an antitrust regime of major importance for companies engaging in global M&A activity has granted it considerable leverage to influence the landscape of the industries in which its domestic companies participate. However, recent events have raised the prospects for greater activism by the national regulators in determining whether a merger or acquisition should go ahead and, if so, on what conditions.
The State Administration for Market Regulation recently fined two Shenzhen tally companies a total of Rmb3,163,108 for entering into a horizontal monopoly agreement. This is one of the first cases to be announced by the newly established antitrust law enforcement agency and may therefore indicate its attitude towards certain industries and behaviours. In particular, the way in which the competitors in this case were identified could raise new compliance challenges for companies doing business in China.
The finalised three-pronged plan for consolidating China's antitrust agencies under the State Administration for Market Regulation was recently released. This initiative has been anticipated and speculated on since the central government's release of its structural reform plan in March 2018. According to the government's plan, the three-pronged plan should have been released in June 2018, but this was substantially delayed due to differences of opinion regarding the reform.
The Ministry of Commerce recently promulgated the Measures for the Review of Concentrations of Business Operators (revised draft) for consultation. However, the revised draft still lacks provisions on the shifting alliances concept. The relevant Anti-monopoly Law enforcement agencies should consider this concept in future, as acknowledging it at the legislative level will finally place China's antitrust system among those of the world's most advanced anti-monopoly jurisdictions.
The Anti-monopoly Law enforcement agencies are increasingly investigating and finding fault with collective boycotts among competitors. As the presumption of illegality for collective boycotts requires a high level of compliance, businesses should be aware that although an independent decision not to deal with distributors or suppliers may not raise Anti-monopoly Law concerns, an agreement with competitors not to do so could raise such concerns.
The State Council recently submitted a proposal to the National People's Congress concerning the council's institutional reform programme. The proposal has shed light on the plans to consolidate the antitrust enforcement powers of the three antitrust agencies under the State Administration for Market Supervision. Although the merger is significant in terms of institutional reorganisation, it will not fundamentally change Anti-monopoly Law enforcement activities in China.
In 2017 the National Development and Reform Commission actively carried out legislative work and formulated and promulgated industrial guidelines and enforcement procedures. In addition, it remained active in its antitrust enforcement by not only penalising a variety of enterprises for anti-competitive conduct, but also targeting administrative agencies that had abused their administrative power in order to restrict or eliminate competition.