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.
The National Development and Reform Commission recently released price conduct guidelines for business operators active in the drugs prone to shortages and active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) markets. The guidelines strengthen the API market's price supervision mechanism, clearly regulate market pricing behaviour with regard to drugs prone to shortages and APIs and provide practical guidance for relevant pharmaceutical companies with regard to their pricing behaviour.
The National People's Congress Standing Committee recently passed the long-awaited amendments to the Anti-unfair Competition Law, which will take effect in January 2018. This is the first time that the law has been amended and it will have a significant impact on business practice in China. In particular, the amended law includes a new section addressing internet-related unfair competition and offers practical and clear guidance for business operators on how to compete legally and fairly online.
At the recent China Competition Policy Forum, a Price Supervision and Anti-monopoly Bureau official commented on the potential enactment by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) of regulations on standard-essential patent licensing practices. The NDRC's proposal aims to ensure greater consistency with the Anti-monopoly Law and develop a consistent approach to the enforcement of IP rights-related anti-competitive conduct.
Following the recent final judgment of the Yunnan Province Higher People's Court, the curtain has – for now – fallen on the Yunnan Ying Ding v SINOPEC refusal to deal case. This case is unique for several reasons. Among other things, it is reportedly the first antitrust dispute to involve the Chinese petroleum industry. In addition, it is the first case in which the plaintiff's claims have concerned refusal to purchase.