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.
The National Development and Reform Commission recently penalised two Chinese pharmaceutical undertakings for alleged collective abuse in the isoniazid active pharmaceutical ingredient market. This was the first time that the Chinese enforcement authorities applied the rules of the Anti-monopoly Law to a case concerning collective abuse.
The Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) recently released an exposure draft of the amendments to its Provisions on the Antitrust Review of Concentrations for public comment. The amendments aim to improve the functionality, comprehensiveness and quality of the provisions by incorporating MOFCOM's experience and its existing best practices. In general, this move to amend the provisions is praiseworthy. However, several issues will need to be resolved through the public consultation process.
The healthcare industry has gradually become a key focal point of Anti-monopoly Law enforcement in China. Between the implementation of the law in 2008 and the end of July 2017, the National Development and Reform Commission and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce concluded a number of anti-monopoly penalty cases and accumulated significant industry experience. As such, healthcare enterprises are likely to face increasing anti-monopoly compliance challenges in future.
The National Development and Reform Commission recently published its Guidelines on Trade Association Pricing Activities. The guidelines clarify trade associations' different pricing activities and categorise them according to their associated level of legal risk. As the guidelines advise associations on how to carry out their activities, they will have a direct impact on legal risk assessments and the day-to-day business of trade associations and their members.
In a recent Zhejiang Provincial Price Bureau case, 17 paper manufacturers were fined a total of Rmb7.78 million for reaching and implementing a horizontal monopoly agreement. Further, the price bureau ordered the Fuyang Paper Manufacturers Association, which had played a leading role in organising and facilitating the conspiracy, to be deregistered. This is the first time that a Chinese antitrust authority has invoked Article 46(3) of the Anti-Monopoly Law to deregister a trade association.
The evidential rules that apply to litigation in certain jurisdictions, especially those regarding the allocation of the burden of proof, have a significant impact on the ultimate result of a case. Private antitrust litigation is often highly complex and thus puts the plaintiff at a disadvantage. However, since special evidential rules were introduced in 2012, the success rate of plaintiffs in private antitrust litigation has started to increase.
After a nearly five-year investigation, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) recently concluded its Tetra Pak case. In a landmark decision, the SAIC imposed its largest ever antitrust penalty on the Swiss packaging giant for its abuse of a dominant position in China and ordered it to cease its illegal conduct. The SAIC's innovative approach to assessing unspecified monopolistic behaviour is a milestone in antitrust law enforcement and its decision will serve as a valuable precedent.
Enforcement in the pharmaceutical industry has been relatively weak since the Anti-monopoly Law's implementation in 2008. However, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) recently issued a decision in the first Chinese case to involve a cartel established by way of concerted conduct. The case indicates that the authorities are increasing their enforcement efforts in the industry and demonstrates how the NDRC has improved its handling of complicated cases.
The State Council recently published its Opinions on Establishing a Fair Competition Review System in the Development of the Market Regime, signalling the formal establishment of China's fair competition review system. The system is a major initiative to ensure fair play among participants in the Chinese market, and the opinions represent a key step towards implementing the council's measures to streamline administration and delegate more power to lower-level governments.
Private antitrust litigation is becoming more popular and now acts as an important supplement to public antitrust enforcement actions in China. In 2012 the Supreme Court issued feasible rules for private antitrust litigation, including specific regulations governing the allocation of the burden of proof in certain circumstances. Four years on, it is pertinent to explore the issues regarding the allocation of the burden of proof in private antitrust litigation.
In 2015 the National Development and Reform Commission imposed penalties on eight international roll-on/roll-off shipping companies for entering into and implementing monopolistic agreements. However, under the leniency programme the first company to report collusion voluntarily and provide important evidence was exempted from any penalty, and the second and third companies to do so received reduced penalties.
In a noteworthy recent case, bioenergy manufacturer Yunnan Yingding claimed that Sinopec (a major state-owned oil company) and the Yunnan branch of Sinopec's trading company abused their dominant market position by refusing – for no justifiable reason – to incorporate the biodiesel produced by Yingding into Sinopec's distribution system. The case raises significant issues regarding application of the Anti-monopoly Law.
The Hubei Administration for Industry and Commerce has fined 12 insurers for concluding an illegal co-insurance agreement. The antitrust agency found their co-insurance agreement for construction project personal accident insurance to violate the Anti-monopoly Law prohibition against monopolistic agreements. The insurers were fined Rmb4.69 million in total.
Standard-essential patents raise numerous issues in Chinese antitrust practice, including with regard to the application boundaries of the Anti-monopoly Law, the balance between public and private rights and the future direction of enforcement and judicial practice. Legal intervention regarding the conduct of a standard-essential patent owner must be undertaken carefully and should not deviate from the realities of the relevant markets.
The Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) has conditionally approved NXP Semiconductors NV's proposed acquisition of Freescale Semiconductor Inc. This marked the first conditional clearance granted by MOFCOM in the past three years, based on the condition that the parties adopt the structural remedy of divesting business that may have negative effects on competition in the relevant market.
The Guangdong Provincial Administration for Industry and Commerce has fined a local animation and gaming association Rmb100,000 for monopolistic conduct. The trade association had signed an agreement with its 52 members which prohibited them from attending exhibitions that were not approved by the association. This marks the first boycott case penalised by the Chinese competition enforcement agencies.