On 22 June 2022, the EU’s General Court (“GC”) fully dismissed thyssenkrupp’s appeal against the European Commission’s (“Commission”) decision to block its proposed joint venture (“JV”) with Tata Steel in 2019.

This is the first time that the GC has considered the prohibition of a “gap” case under the EU Merger Regulation (“EUMR”) since it annulled the Commission’s prohibition of CK Hutchison’s proposed acquisition of Telefónica UK (O2) in 2020 (“CK Hutchison”) (see our previous blog post here). A “gap” case is a merger in an oligopolistic market that does not result in the creation or strengthening of an individual or collective dominant position. Rather, it risks causing a “significant impediment to effective competition”.

This result may indicate a return to a more traditional approach by the GC as regards “gap” cases than that demonstrated in the CK Hutchison judgment. The judgment also provides helpful guidance on the interpretation of the EUMR and other legal instruments (such as the Market Definition Notice and the Notice on Remedies). The key findings are:

  • Standard of proof: In order to block a “gap” merger, the Commission must show with a sufficient degree of probability that the transaction significantly impedes effective competition in the internal market or in a substantial part of it.
  • SSNIP test: The Commission is not required to apply the SSNIP (small but significant and non-transitory increase in price) test when assessing substitutability between products — it is only one of the methods available to the Commission when defining the market.
  • Remedies: When assessing remedies, it is not necessary to demonstrate that the remedies remove the entire overlap between the merging parties or re-create fully the pre-merger structure in affected markets.
  • Requests for Information (“RFI”): There is no procedural error where the Commission fails to take additional steps (beyond sending systematic reminders) to ensure that recipients respond to an RFI.


Continue Reading EU General Court Upholds Tata Steel/thyssenkrupp JV Prohibition

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 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

The Enterprise Act 2002 (“EA02”) affords the CMA broad discretion in asserting jurisdiction over mergers that may affect a UK market. Under the EA02, a relevant merger situation (“RMS”) exists where (i) two or more enterprises cease to be distinct; and (ii) either the UK turnover of the target exceeds £70 million (the “turnover test”) or the parties supply or acquire at least 25% of a particular good or service in the UK (the “share of supply test”).

The first limb of the RMS test can be satisfied by the acquisition of de jure control, of de facto control (where it is able to control another company’s policy without holding a majority of the voting rights) or of material influence (where it can directly or indirectly materially influence policy without having a controlling interest ). The material influence test continues to be subject to significant debate.

The second limb of the RMS test aims to ensure that a transaction has sufficient nexus to the UK. The share of supply test is designed to enable the review of transactions which, while they do not trigger the turnover test, are of competitive significance in the UK. This share of supply test has been central to the CMA’s expansive assertion of jurisdiction in a number of recent cases. In Amazon/Deliveroo the CMA took an expansive approach to the notion of material influence. In Sabre/Farelogix the CMA adopted an expansive interpretation of what constitutes the supply of services in the UK, and it also took an expansive approach to the share of supply test in each of Roche/Spark and Google/Looker.

Continue Reading The CMA’s approach to jurisdiction in recent merger cases

On 22 April 2020, the UK Competition and Market Authority (“CMA”) published its guidance on ‘Merger assessments during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic’ (“the guidance”). Prior to the publication of the guidance, there was some speculation about whether the CMA would be more willing to accept ‘failing firm’ arguments as the economic impact of COVID-19 hit home. However, while the CMA has, as it acknowledged, “been working closely with the government to relax competition law where appropriate”, the guidance and a number of recent CMA cases make it clear that the CMA is not relaxing its merger assessments in response to COVID-19.

Continue Reading The CMA’s Guidance on Merger Assessments During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic and Recent CMA Cases

On 16 January 2019, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) rejected the European Commission’s (“Commission”) appeal in Commission v. UPS. The judgment followed Advocate General Kokott’s Opinion of July 2018, and upholds the 2017 judgment of the General Court (“GC”) annulling on procedural grounds the Commission’s decision prohibiting the acquisition of TNT by UPS.

Continue Reading EU Court Confirms the Annulment of the European Commission’s Decision Prohibiting the UPS/TNT Transaction

On 25 September 2018, Covington’s Johan Ysewyn and Jim O’Connell will speak on cartels and merger enforcement, respectively, at the 12th Annual Georgetown Global Antitrust Enforcement Symposium in Washington DC.

This Symposium serves as a leading forum for in-house and outside counsel, policymakers, corporate executives, economists and academics to discuss the most recent issues in competition law and policy.
Continue Reading 12th Annual Georgetown Global Antitrust Enforcement Symposium – Debating the Latest Issues with Covington’s Johan Ysewyn and Jim O’Connell

The UK Government published its highly-anticipated technical guidance on merger review and anti-competitive activity on 13 September 2018 which will apply in the case of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit (the ‘Guidance’). Although brief, it provides market players with some form of practical advice and insights on what to expect, how cases are likely to be divided between the EU and UK regimes, how UK competition law will develop, and suggests in what ways post-Brexit competition damages actions in the UK Courts may change. This Guidance follows on from the previously released ‘no-deal’ state aid guidance – as was covered in our previous Covington alert – forming part of a larger suite of ‘no-deal’ Brexit guidance papers released by the Government in recent weeks.

The Guidance provides several key pieces of practical advice for businesses regarding different types of competition law processes in the wake of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.
Continue Reading The UK Government Issues ‘No-deal’ Competition and Merger Guidance

Introduction

Gun-jumping has been in the spotlight this year both at the European level and in the UK. At the EU level, first there was DG Competition’s record fining of Altice of € 124.5m (here) and then the Court of Justice of the EU (“CJEU”) ruled on the scope of the EU law standstill obligation in its EY/KPMG Denmark preliminary ruling (here). Now the Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) has fined Electro Rent Corporation (“Electro Rent”) £100,000 for breaching the UK standstill obligation. Although there are particular features of this example which mean that the scenario is far from the norm, it does provide a reminder that standstill obligations can arise even under the UK’s voluntary regime and sends a warning of the additional complexity that may arise post-Brexit.

Continue Reading Jumping the gun: the CMA’s approach to breaches of the standstill obligation

Introduction

In a recent blog post where we reflected on DG Competition fining Altice a record € 124.5m for gun-jumping, we already anticipated the Ernst & Young P/S v Konkurrenceradet judgment where, for the first time, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) provides guidance on the scope of the standstill obligation under the EU merger control regime. That judgment was handed down on 31 May. According to the CJEU, the “gun-jumping” prohibition only covers actions contributing to a change of control of the target undertaking. Because KPMG DK’s pre-clearance termination of its cooperation agreement with KPMG international did not contribute to Ernst & Young (EY) acquiring control over KPMG DK, EY and KPMG DK did not infringe the gun-jumping prohibition. This marks a welcome line in the sand finally indicating a limitation on the gun-jumping prohibition for merging companies.

Continue Reading Jumping the gun: some clarification from the Court of Justice