The Ministry of Commerce (“MOFCOM”) has issued Interim Provisions on the Standards Applicable to Simple Cases of Concentration of Business Operators (the “Provisions”) effective as of February 12, 2014, to define which M&A cases required to be reviewed by MOFCOM under China’s Anti-monopoly Law will and will not be deemed “simple” anti-monopoly cases. The Provisions appear to have been influenced by the European Commission’s simplified merger review procedure, which itself has just been expanded to cover more transactions.1 Although the Provisions do not establish a streamlined procedure for processing simple cases, it is generally expected that under the yet-to-be issued rules to implement the Provisions, simple cases will enjoy procedural benefits that will speed up the MOFCOM anti-monopoly review process.
1 Simple Anti-monopoly Case Defined
According to the Provisions, subject to certain exceptions noted below, a case will be deemed a simple case for the purpose of MOFCOM’s anti-monopoly review if it falls within any of the following situations:
Even if a case satisfies the conditions in Section 1 above, it will not be deemed a simple anti-monopoly case:
Last December MOFCOM issued a report on its efforts to improve its efficiency in implementing Anti-monopoly Reviews of Concentration of Undertakings.2 Although improvements in its processing times were noted, it nonetheless reported a considerable gap between its case processing times and those prevailing in the US and the EU. MOFCOM reported that only 13% of the 161 cases it concluded in the January to October 2013 period were concluded in the first 30-day review period, with 80.7% being advanced to the second 90-day review period before they were concluded.3 This stands in sharp contrast to the review times under America’s Hart-Scott-Rodino and the European Commission’s pre-merger filing regimes. In the US, only 3.5% of the 1,429 cases filed in fiscal 2012 resulted in a request for additional information and documentary material ( known as a “second request”), thereby pushing the review process beyond the initial 30-day waiting period.4 The proportion of EC mergers decided during the in-depth Phase II review was even lower (2.2%) in 2013.5
While the exceptions to “simple case” status under the Provisions leave considerable scope for MOFCOM to assert its review jurisdiction in just about any case meeting its filing thresholds, as they remain likely to do in cases involving sensitive industries or where local competitors complain, the effort expended by MOFCOM to formulate and promulgate sensible simple case definitions evidence its sincere intention to address a significant shortcoming.
1 Commission Notice of 5 December 2013 on a Simplified Procedure for Treatment of Certain Concentrations under Council Regulation (EC) No 139/2004. The Notice forms part of the ‘merger simplification package’, which is applicable as of 1 January 2014 (Official Journal C 366, 14.12.2013, p. 5).
2 Available in English at http://english.mofcom.gov.cn/article/zt_review2013/column1/
201401/20140100453521.shtml and in Chinese at http://www.mofcom.gov.en/article/ae/ai/201312/
3 Id. MOFCOM’s 180-day statutory merger review period is comprised of three phases: (i) phase I is 30 calendar days; (ii) phase II is 90 calendar days; and (iii) phase III (extended review) is 60 calendar days. The reported performance does not include the case review/process time MOFCOM takes before it officially accepts a case for filing, thereby starting the 3-phase statutory clock.
4 See Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Justice Hart-Scott-Rodino Annual Report, Fiscal 2012 at 5-6, http://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/reports_annual/35th-report-fy2012/130430hsrreport_0.pdf. The corresponding percentage for fiscal years 2003-2011 ranged between a low of 2.5% and a high of 4.5%.
5 In Europe, 277 cases were notified in 2013. The European Commission made 252 decisions during a Phase I review (i.e., 91%) and 6 cases were decided in Phase II (i.e., 2.2%). The remaining cases were either withdrawn or subject to a referral request. See European Commission DG COMP merger decision statistics webpage at http://ec.europa.eu/competition/mergers/statistics.pdf
去年12月，商务部公布了一份有关其提高经营者集中反垄断审查效率的年终述评报告 。该年终述评报告指出商务部反垄断办案时间缩短，但是仍然与美国和欧盟有很大的差距。根据上述年终述评报告，2013年1—10月，反垄断局共审结案件161起，其中，第一阶段（30天）审结案件占比13%；进一步审查阶段（90天）审结案件占比80.7% 。这与美国《哈特—斯科特—罗迪诺反托拉斯改进法》项下以及欧盟委员会反垄断法规项下的办案时间形成鲜明的对比：2012财年，美国审结的1,429起反垄断案件中，只有3.5%的案件被要求补充额外信息和文件资料（“补充资料要求”），使其审查时间超出最初30日期限 ；2013年，进入欧盟第二阶段进一步审查的反垄断案件占比更小（2.2%） 。暂行规定内有关简易案件例外情形的规定虽然为商务部提供了相当的空间，使之可以对满足申报标准的几乎任何案件主张审查管辖（因为在涉及敏感行业或当地竞争者提出异议的情况下，商务部仍旧很有可能这样做），但是基于商务部为制定和公布简易案件合理界定标准而付出的努力，可以证明商务部具有解决该重大不足的真诚意愿。
1 2013年12月5日欧盟委员会《有关欧盟理事会第139/2004号规定项下特定集中交易简易处理程序的通知》。该通知作为“反垄断一揽子简化程序”的一部分，自2014年1月1日起施行（官方会刊C 366第5页，2013年12月14日）。
2 该年终述评报告的英文译文见： http://english.mofcom.gov.cn/article/zt_review2013/column1/
4 参见2012财年美国联邦贸易委员会和美国司法部《哈特—斯科特—罗迪诺反托拉斯改进法》年报第5-6页：http://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/reports_annual/35th-report-fy2012/130430hsrreport_0.pdf 。2003财年至2011财年的对应比值介于最低2.5%至最高4.5%之间。
5 2013年，欧洲境内申报欧盟委员会受理的反垄断案件共有277起，其中，有252起在第一阶段内审结（91%），有6起在第二阶段内审结（2.2%）。剩余案件抑或被撤回或被提出移送申请。请参见欧盟委员会反垄断局反垄断审批数据网页： http://ec.europa.eu/competition/mergers/statistics.pdf。
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This article was originally published by Bingham McCutchen LLP.