The New Zealand Commerce Commission's position towards gun jumping is that "while parties to proposed mergers must naturally engage with each other to explore the merits of a transaction prior to binding themselves and consummating a deal", pre-merger discussions and coordination concerns can arise. Businesses contemplating an M&A transaction with their competitors must therefore bear in mind a number of competition law considerations.
The New Zealand Commerce Commission (NZCC) recently published amended cartel leniency policy guidelines, updating its previous guidelines from 2011. While the changes are mostly cosmetic, the updated guidelines indicate a potential change in the NZCC's approach towards penalty discounts for second-in applicants that seek to fall within its cooperation regime.
The commerce and consumer affairs minister recently tabled a bill in Parliament that will enable the Commerce Commission to undertake market studies. The bill also provides for matters concerning the Commerce Act's competition law regime – namely, repealing its cease and desist regime and empowering the commission to accept enforceable undertakings in order to resolve restrictive trade practice enforcement cases under the act.
The Commerce (Criminalisation of Cartels) Amendment Bill was recently tabled in the House of Representatives. It introduces a new criminal offence for cartel conduct, as well as a requirement for intention for criminal prosecution and a defence against criminal prosecution for individuals who believed that a cartel provision was reasonably necessary for a collaborative activity. This development overturns the previous government's decision to remove criminal penalties for cartel conduct from the bill.
There were a number of key competition law developments in New Zealand during 2017, including the enactment of the Cartels Act, the postponement of the reform of the prohibition on taking advantage of market power and a significant increase in the proportion of declined merger clearances. In addition, the new Labour-led government stated that it is keen to empower the Commerce Commission to undertake market studies before the end of 2018.
There is a debate in competition law at present concerning whether a company can restrict online sales for their products. Under New Zealand competition law, a supplier restricting its customers from selling on online platforms could be penalised if, among other things, it has market power and imposes restrictions to take advantage of that market power for an anti-competitive purpose. However, legitimate and pro-competitive justifications can be relevant in assessing the legality of such restrictions.