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.
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.