News

Japan: New deregulation plan

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The Japanese Cabinet has approved the Second Revised Deregulation Action Plan. Some of the Plan’s measures include the review of a variety of competition law systems; the deletion of a notice requirement for international contracts; and the submission of an omnibus bill to repeal, reform, or review many of the systems which provide exemptions from the Antimonopoly Act.

Ireland: Competition Authority Guidelines

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The publication of this series of Guidelines is further evidence of the Authority’s intention to use its new enforcement powers in a proactive way. Since it was given these powers in the 1996 Act, it has taken effective action in relation to a number of complaints from a variety of sources. The issues involved have related to matters such as resale price maintenance, collective boycotts and industrywide price-fixing arrangements.

European Union: More cooperation

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It remains to be seen whether a significant caseload is transferred by the Commission to national authorities following the adoption of this Notice. If this does result in a considerable reallocation of cases, there will inevitably be increased pressure on the resources of national competition authorities. Of particular interest in this context is that the UK Competition Bill is due to implement an EU-style competition regime in the UK in 1998. In conjunction with this, the Bill contains specific provisions authorising the Director General of Fair Trading to obtain a warrant to enter premises by force when undertaking an investigation at the request of the European Commission in connection with an Article 85 or 86 investigation which has been commenced at the EU level.

United States: Resale price maintenance

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In Khan, the Supreme Court received briefs supporting the rule of reason approach from a wide variety of sources, including the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, automakers, beer distributors and newspaper publishers. In contrast, a group of approximately 30 state attorneys-general opposed the overruling of the per se rule enunciated in Albrecht. In finding for State Oil, the Court implicitly rejected the argument of the Attorneys General that maximum price fixing 'displaces the free play of market forces'.

Austria: Merger control turnover rules

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The Austrian Cartel Court’s decision to interpret the turnover calculation rules of Austrian merger control somewhat restrictively is very welcome news for all companies engaging in mergers and acquisitions. The court’s interpretation, albeit as yet unconfirmed by the Austrian Supreme Court, will go some way towards making the inclusion of turnover for the purpose of merger control, which is almost open-ended according to the letter of the law, more manageable. In effect, as long as there are no spillover effects to other partners of a joint venture concerned, the decision would seem to exclude the turnover of joint venture partners (and not of the joint venture as such).

Canada: User fees introduced

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The Competition Bureau recently began charging user fees for, among other things, merger filings.

WorldCom/ MCI

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US telecommunications company WorldCom finally put an end to speculation about the future owner of fellow telecoms company MCI with a US$37 billion bid, which included a US$7 billion bid for BT’s stake in MCI.

Argentina: New Argentine antitrust law proposed

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Law 22,262 has been widely criticised in Argentina as an ineffective and outdated tool for controlling the activities of monopolies. In the last two years a wave of mergers and acquisitions has taken place in Argentina, but the Tribunal has not issued any relevant policy or participated in any way in the process, taking a passive role because the law only penalises an abuse of a dominant position but not the creation of a position of dominance. As a result of this criticism, the government has put before Congress the BAL, whose the main features are set out opposite.

Merrill Lynch/ Mercury Asset Management

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US investment bank Merrill Lynch is attempting to surge ahead of rival global fund managers with its proposed US$3.1 billion takeover of Mercury Asset Management.

Sweden: Posten AB v Competition Authority

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The Swedish court has examined the burden of proof on the Competition Authority in predatory pricing cases. It found that where the alleged infringer had utilised generally accepted accounting principles, answered the Authority’s questions and not concealed information, the burden of proof was on the Authority to prove that the alleged infringer had abused its dominant position.