Despite the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the EU Vertical Agreement Block Exemption Regulation (retained VABER) continues to offer a safe harbor with respect to potentially anti-competitive vertical or supply agreements with an effect on trade within the UK. In this Alert, Steptoe’s EU Competition Team analyses the UK Competition and Market Authority’s recently issued

On March 2, 2021, the UK signed a trade partnership agreement with Ghana.  Recently, Cadbury, which is wholly owned by Mondelez, has announced that it is moving some production of its iconic Dairy Milk chocolate bars from Germany to the UK. This note, which is in two parts, considers the connection between the trade partnership agreement between the UK and Ghana and the relocation of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate production to the UK from the EU and the implications this will have in terms of supply chain management.

Continue Reading Home-Coming of Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate Bars (Part 1)

The following note highlights certain barriers to free trade flows between the UK and the EU that have arisen in the post-Brexit era, with particular reference to rules of origin and origin procedures. It assesses the consequences these new rules will have in determining market power, influencing supply chain practices, and the application of UK and EU competition law in the future.

Continue Reading EU/UK Trade Post-Brexit: Rules of Origin and Their Impact on Competition Law

The CMA has provided guidance on its expected approach to merger assessments during the Covid-19 pandemic. While the timescales and substantive assessment of a merger’s effects on competition remain unchanged, the CMA has made a number of adjustments to its working arrangements in order to meet deadlines and progress cases. However, it is likely that some aspects of investigations may be subject to some delay.

Continue Reading CMA Guidance on its Approach to Merger Assessments during the COVID-19 Pandemic

In these extraordinary times, economies around the World including Member States are pumping money into their economies.  Businesses and whole sectors are crying out for special support.  State support in the EEA above a low de minimis threshold is subject to strict state aid rules which requires pre-clearance by the European Commission under strict conditions. 

It is important to remember that as businesses struggle in these times to cope with issues like distribution, sourcing ingredients, components and other resources, they may look to collaborate with rivals.   In fact, many businesses have been doing exactly that.  Collaboration between competitors can be perfectly benign and may no anti-competitive effects (for example, in setting standards, lobbying efforts).  However, competition rules do apply and coordination of prices, market sharing, cost allocation, coordinated output reductions or sharing competitive sensitive information, would be prohibited.  Some restrictions are regarded as ‘hard core’ and rarely worthy of exemption (price fixing, customer and market allocations and quantity restrictions).  Penalties for infringement could lead to significant fines and possible private damages litigation.

Continue Reading Collaboration Between Competitors in Times of Crisis

In recent months we have seen a number of horizontal mergers being scrutinized under national and EU merger rules. Since the fall-out from the Siemens/Alstom merger refusal, we have also seen a number of ministers from member states, including Poland, France and Germany, call for increased tolerance and indeed support for the emergence of so-called ‘national champions’. Recently in March there have been calls for companies to ‘reshore’ operations which they had outsourced to other countries – including not only third countries but also other member states. Targets included Peugeot and Renault and there have been calls for the European Commission to provide support for such moves.

Continue Reading Horizontal Mergers in the EU

On January 31, the UK exited the EU, after more than three years of constitutional turmoil. The UK now embarks on a year of transition and negotiations as it heads out into a world of new trade relations, with opportunities and challenges in equal measure. This is a watershed moment for all companies who trade in or out of the UK or the EU. Whether trading in goods or services, companies face strategic re-assessments not just of where they trade, but how they organize their trading activities: upstream for inputs and downstream to their customers and markets. How will they be affected – from a regulatory, trade, customs, commercial, investment and disputes perspective?

Continue Reading Brexit – A Long Goodbye

On 20 November 2018, the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission reached a political agreement on the proposed EU framework for screening of foreign direct investments (FDIs).

The proposal, put forward by the Commission in September 2017, aims at protecting key strategic industries and assets in Europe whilst maintaining the EU’s appeal to foreign investors.

While other countries such as Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan and the US, as well as 12 of the 28 EU Member States[1] already have FDI screening mechanisms in place, it is the first time that such a mechanism is introduced at the EU level.

The proposal is a response to growing concerns in the EU – especially from France, Germany and Italy – that state-owned or state-controlled foreign investors, notably from China, are increasingly acquiring control over high-tech companies and critical infrastructure in Europe.

The EU framework will not impose an obligation on Member States to establish FDI screening mechanisms but rather sets out common rules for Member States that already have such mechanisms in place or that are willing to create them. In any case, the prohibition of FDIs on security or public order grounds will still be decided at the national level.

Formal approval of the proposed Regulation by the European Parliament and the Council is expected by March 2019, ahead of the upcoming EU elections in May 2019.


Continue Reading EU Framework for Screening of Foreign Direct Investments (Informally) Approved by the European Parliament and Council

Introduction

On 25 July 2018, Advocate General (AG) Kokott issued a non-binding Opinion in case C-265/17 P, Commission v United Parcel Service, advising the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) to dismiss the Commission’s appeal against the judgement of the General Court (GC) that annulled the Commission’s decision to block the proposed acquisition of TNT by UPS.

UPS notified the proposed acquisition of TNT for approximately EUR 5 billion on 15 June 2012. More than six months later, on 30 January 2013 the Commission blocked the proposed merger based on concerns that it would lead to a significant impediment of effective competition (SIEC) on the market for international intra-EEA express deliveries for small packages in 15 Member States.

On 7 March 2017 the GC issued a favourable judgement for UPS (case T-194/13, United Parcel Service v Commission). The Court found that the Commission breached UPS’s rights of defence by relying on the latest version of an economic analysis which was not shared with the merging parties before the merger was blocked. The Commission appealed the GC’s judgement on 16 May 2017.

In the meantime, TNT was acquired by FedEx for EUR 4 billion, in January 2016, in a deal that received unconditional approval by the Commission. While UPS may have lost the chance to consolidate its express deliveries business with TNT, AG Kokott’s favourable Opinion will arguably boosts UPS’s chances to win an action for damages for EUR 1.7 billion against the Commission filed by UPS in February 2018 (case T-834/17, United Parcel Service v Commission).

AG Kokott’s Opinion, which is largely in line with the GC’s judgment, provides an important reminder – especially to the Commission – that the rights of defence should be upheld without excuses, including in merger control proceedings.


Continue Reading AG Kokott on UPS/TNT: A ‘Textbook Example’ of How to Breach the Rights of Defence in Merger Control Proceedings