Competition Law

When its Anti-Monopoly Law (“AML”) went into effect in August 2008, China immediately became a significant antitrust enforcer on the world stage.  On June 24, 2022, the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, passed the Amendment to the Anti-Monopoly Law of the PRC (the “Amendment”), the first significant changes to the AML in nearly fourteen years.  The Amendment, which was signed into law by President Xi Jinping and published on June 24, will become effective on August 1.  It marks a major milestone in antitrust enforcement in China.

The more significant aspects of the Amendment include:

  • significantly enhanced penalties for AML violations, including the introduction of fines for individuals;
  • the introduction of a discretionary “stop-the-clock” mechanism for merger reviews;
  • the codification of a burden-shifting framework created by China’s courts that gives companies the opportunity to defend resale price maintenance agreements; and
  • new safe harbor and burden of proof provisions for matters involving vertical agreements.

Consistent with trends in other jurisdictions around the world, the Amendment also features a special focus on key economic sectors such as the digital economy.

Following the publication of the Amendment, the State Administration for Market Regulation (“SAMR”), China’s lead antitrust enforcement authority, released six sets of draft implementing regulations for public comment.  These cover subjects such as merger control and notification thresholds, anti-competitive agreements, abuse of a dominant market position, and the abuse of intellectual property rights to exclude or restrict competition.  SAMR is accepting comments on these regulations until July 27, 2022.

How Covington Can Help

Covington’s global antitrust and competition practice guides clients through the often-complex web of antitrust and competition laws around the world to help them secure their most important business objectives. Our team, which includes many attorneys who have served in senior leadership roles at government enforcement agencies and in in-house positions, has decades of collective experience advising clients regarding their global antitrust and competition concerns.  If you have any questions concerning the material discussed in this client alert, please contact any of the following members of our Antitrust/Competition practice: Jim O’Connell, James Marshall, and Alexander Wang.

This communication is intended to bring relevant developments to the attention of Covington & Burling LLP’s clients and other interested colleagues. It is not intended as legal advice. Readers should seek specific legal advice before acting with regard to the subjects mentioned herein. Please send an email to unsubscribe@cov.com if you do not wish to receive future emails or electronic alerts.Continue Reading Significant Changes to China’s Anti-Monopoly Law to Take Effect in August

The English High Court (“High Court”) has issued an important judgment in the claim that Gemalto group companies (“Gemalto”) brought against Infineon (“Infineon”) and Renesas Electronics (“Renesas”) companies, for damages arising from the smart card chips cartel (Gemalto NV and others v Infineon Technologies AG [2022] EWHC 156 (Ch), the “Judgment”).  The claim arises from a European Commission decision in 2014.  The High Court has found that Gemalto brought its claim out of time because the limitation period started to run not when the Commission adopted that decision, but about one and a half years before that, when the Commission adopted preliminary charges in the form of a Statement of Objections.  The Judgment gives a clear signal that prospective claimants can no longer assume that the limitation period starts running from the date of a regulatory decision and gives some reassurance that potential defendants should not be on the receiving end of claims that could have been brought earlier.
Continue Reading English High Court issues warning shot to cartel damages Claimants who delay

The UK’s new National Security & Investment Act (NSIA) will come into force on January 4, 2022. The Act introduces mandatory notification and pre-clearance requirements applicable to certain acquisitions within 17 key sectors including energy, life sciences and technology.

In order to administer the Act, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has

On 3 November, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) issued a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to replace the EU Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Regulation or ” VABER” with a UK Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Order (“UK Order”) when the VABER expires on 31 May 2022.  The VABER (which provides a safe harbour from the prohibition against anti-competitive agreements for vertical agreements that meet the applicable requirements) formed part of retained EU law following Brexit, but its upcoming expiry triggers the need for a UK Order to be issued in its place.
Continue Reading The UK CMA publishes its recommendation for replacing the retained Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Regulation

On 6 October 2021, a preliminary ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) in Sumal confirmed that follow-on damages actions can be brought against subsidiaries of companies found to have infringed EU competition law. This note briefly analyzes the judgment and the implications thereof.
Continue Reading The CJEU’s Sumal Judgment: Parental Liability is “Going Down”

On 20 July 2021, the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (“DCMS”) and Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (“BEIS”) published proposals for a new regulatory regime for digital markets alongside accompanying consultation documents (the “Consultation”).  The Consultation seeks views from interested parties and closes on 1 October 2021.
Continue Reading New UK Digital Competition Regulation Regime Consultation Closes on 1 October 2021

What is happening and why?

On 30 June, the UK Government announced its draft Subsidy Control Bill (the “Bill”) which sets out the framework for how the UK will subsidise businesses post-Brexit.  The UK government has hailed the Bill as a major departure from the EU state aid rules.  In practice, the Bill provides a framework for implementing the UK’s international commitments on subsidy control, as set out in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement agreed with the European Union, and in other existing international trade obligations and World Trade Organisation (“WTO”) rules.

The Bill introduces a decentralised subsidy control framework outlining principles with which public authorities must comply when awarding subsidies.  One of the key aims of the Bill is to ensure that the subsidy control regime is not used to encourage a “race to the bottom” between different regions of the UK.

While there are some important differences as compared to the EU state aid regime, the fundamental principles are comparable and any subsidies given under the Northern Ireland Protocol will continue to be governed by EU rules.Continue Reading The UK’s post-Brexit Subsidy Control regime — what to expect

On 3 June 2021, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) in case C-563/19 P Recylex v Commission dismissed Recylex’ appeal both to adjust its ranking in the leniency process and to receive partial immunity for parts of its participation in the Car Battery Recycling cartel.  The judgment, on appeal against the judgment of the General Court (“GC”) of 23 May 2019, provides guidance to companies considering a leniency application when there is already an ongoing European Commission (“Commission”) investigation.

Applying for leniency enables cartel participants to obtain reduced or annulled fines.  The 2006 Commission Notice on Immunity from fines and reduction of fines in cartel cases  (“Leniency Notice”) sets out the key principles:

  • the first company providing the Commission with sufficient evidence for an investigation will be granted full immunity;
  • subsequent applicants can receive fine reductions of 30-50%, 20-30% or 20% depending on the timing of their submission; and
  • companies can receive partial immunity for providing the Commission with details expanding the scope of the infringement.

Continue Reading ECJ provides guidance on key cartel questions: the partial immunity concept and rankings for leniency applications

Back in 2020, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) had announced, in its annual priorities, its interest in the competition implications of the digital revolution in the financial sector, notably in the context of the growth of FinTech, the introduction of blockchain technology and the emergence of “digital giants” in payment services. Shortly after this announcement, on 13 January 2020, the FCA started an ex officio investigation to assess the competitive situation in the sector of new technologies applied to financial activities and, more specifically, to payment activities.

More than a year later, in a public opinion of over 120 pages, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) provides its initial conclusions (i) noting the emergence of new services, initiation channels and alternative payment methods, (ii) reporting on a new market dynamic with the arrival of new players and the impact on traditional banking groups and (iii) addressing some of the competition issues facing the sector.Continue Reading The French Competition Authority gives its views on the competition issues arising from Fintech

The Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) is consulting on its proposed recommendation to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to replace the retained Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Regulation (“retained VABER”) with a new UK Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Order (“VABEO”).

The retained VABER is the European Commission Regulation No 330/2010, which was incorporated into UK law when the UK left the EU.  The retained VABER currently provides a safe harbour for a wide range of vertical agreements, subject to certain thresholds being met. It expires on 31 May 2022 and is under review for replacement by the European Commission. Following Brexit, businesses will not benefit from any replacement to the VABER at EU level in relation to their UK activities.  The CMA has therefore consulted with businesses, industry associations and professional advisers to consider whether a UK-specific equivalent is required.  Following this initial consultation process, the CMA recommends introducing a UK-specific equivalent VABEO from 1 June 2022.
Continue Reading What you need to know about the CMA’s consultation on the Retained Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Regulation