China: 他山之石:国外反垄断执法机构如何规制MFN条款

Last Updated: 3 March 2017
Article by Dentons  

MFN条款是一种典型的纵向限制,近年来国外反垄断执法机构对MFN条款的执法活动较为频繁,特别是针对在线酒店预订平台Booking.com等公司进行的调查。实际上国内同期也有类似的调查行动,只是最终没有发现MFN条款构成纵向垄断协议。由于MFN条款客观上的确可能具有排除、限制竞争的效果,并非反垄断法盲区,因此为了更好地认识MFN条款,本文研究了一些国外典型案例,以供大家参考。

1. MFN条款的概念、促进竞争效果和反竞争效果

1.1 MFN条款的概念

MFN条款(Most Favored Nation clause),即最惠国条款,原为国际贸易政策中的重要内容,其签订目的在于要求缔约国给予对方国家投资者的待遇不得低于其给予任何第三国投资者的待遇 1,因此MFN条款也被称为"不歧视条款"。MFN条款的概念被移植到经营者的交易活动中,一般是指合同一方给予相对人的交易条件不低于其现在或未来给予任何其他第三方相对人的交易条件(尤其是价格层面)。 2

国与国之间签订MFN条款的最根本目的在于防止歧视性贸易,而该类条款确实起到了维持国与国之间公平竞争的效果。但是,在经营者日常交易活动过程中签订的MFN条款,虽然对经营者的交易起到一定促进作用,但该类条款不仅对于缔约双方形成约束,同时也对某一行业的整体交易条件构成一定限制。 3

1.2 MFN条款的促进竞争效果 4

首先,MFN条款能够解决"套牢问题"(locked-in)。"套牢问题"通常表现为买方为某项交易付出大量成本后,卖方却寻求更有利于自身的交易。例如,买方为更有效地处理卖方提供的特定货物而投入大量成本对员工进行培训或对基础设施进行升级,然而在买方投入成本后,卖方却以更低价格与其他相对方进行交易,或干脆取消与买方的交易。MFN条款能够对交易进行锁定,从而提升交易双方对彼此的信赖程度。尤其对于长线交易而言,MFN条款能够将交易价格锁定为正常市场价,控制交易双方所面临的不可预测风险。

其次,MFN条款具有防止交易延迟的效果。MFN条款能够防止交易延迟,尤其当买方可能与多家卖方进行交易时,MFN条款能够提升交易效率。例如,房地产开发商在楼盘开发之前需从多个土地所有权人处购买土地,但每个土地所有权人都想成为最后成交者以保证自身利益最大化。在此情况下,MFN条款能够明确每个人所能获得的利益,避免谈判僵持导致的交易延迟。

最后,MFN条款能够减少交易与谈判成本。MFN条款的签订意味着买方不必挖空心思讨价还价,也不用花费时间和成本在市场中寻找出价更低的卖方。同理,交易双方的续约过程也会更加简便。

1.3 MFN条款的反竞争效果

首先,MFN条款可能便利经营者达成共谋,增加交易双方协同的可能性。在交易中双方本可以结合双方的成本、预算以及交易环境自由定价,卖方也有自由根据实际情况给予买方一定折扣。然而卖方给予一家买方折扣之后,依据MFN条款,卖方必须给予其他买方同样的折扣。这就造成市场内卖方售价趋于一致,便利交易双方协同。

其次,MFN条款具有排除竞争的效果。MFN条款排除竞争的效果主要体现在其可能限制潜在竞争者进入市场,或限制边缘竞争者充分进入市场。例如,当卖方与市场既存且占有支配地位的买方达成协议后,小型的市场进入者或边缘竞争者则必须以相同价格与卖方进行交易,这显然有利于既存的市场主体维持其市场份额。

最后,MFN条款会增加卖方议价能力,消费者在议价过程中将占据不利地位。在没有MFN条款的情况下,买方通常把握议价能力,尤其对于弹性需求产品而言,买方可选择是否购买以及何时购买。然而MFN条款限制了卖方给予折扣的自由,使得市场价格在较长时间内趋于一致,卖方的议价能力得以提高。

2. 国外反垄断执法机构干预MFN条款的典型案例

在大部分情况下,MFN条款被认为是良性的商业条款,美国著名法官理查德"波斯纳也认为,MFN条款是"买方议价的标配"。 5

追溯MFN条款的历史来看,美国在"蓝十字与蓝盾保险案"中,确立了"MFN条款本身并不具有违法性,只不过其引发的竞争法问题可能违反《谢尔曼法》相关规定"这样的原则; 6而《欧盟委员会关于纵向限制的指南》第48段中规定,直接限制转售价格与依靠固定销售利润、销售折扣等行为实施的间接限制转售价格都属于对竞争的核心限制行为 7。也就是说,尽管MFN条款在商业实践中运用较广,但如果引起了竞争问题(包括转售价格限制问题),美国和欧盟地区竞争执法机构也会对其展开调查。近年,Booking.com、苹果和亚马逊都因MFN条款引起竞争问题而被竞争执法机构调查。

2.1 Booking.com

2010年9月,在线酒店预订平台Skoosh举报同样从事在线酒店预订业务的Booking.com、Expedia两家网站以及英国洲际酒店管理集团(InterContinental Hotels Group,"IHG"),声称他们之间签订的合同条款涉及到IHG酒店集团对在线酒店预订网站提供折扣价的限制,并认为这些条款在事实上构成整个在线酒店预订行业的"最优价格担保",也就是MFN条款。 8英国、瑞典、法国、意大利、德国竞争执法机构相继开始调查。

(a) 英国OFT的调查

2012年7月31日英国公平交易局("OFT",现为CMA)发布异议声明,称Booking.com 和Expedia 两家公司("被指控方")分别与IHG公司签订独立的协议,限制酒店和在线酒店预订平台给予折扣的能力。OFT称,从性质上看,被指控行为限制了在线酒店预订平台之间的价格竞争,提高了在线酒店预订市场的进入壁垒,并且阻碍了在线酒店预订平台通过打折方式增加其市场份额的可能性。 9收到OFT异议声明之后,被指控方有充足的机会证明其行为没有违反竞争法,但本案中被指控方并未对异议声明作出正式答复,而是提议针对其经营行为作出承诺。2014年1月31日,OFT接受Booking.com和Expedia的不对酒店和在线酒店预订平台的折扣进行限制的承诺。 10出于竞争分析的完整性考虑,OFT在接受承诺的决定中指出:在市场价格透明度较高且价格搜索成本较低的情况下,在线酒店预订平台本可以优惠价格吸引消费者,但被指控方的价格协议阻碍在线酒店预订平台提供更低的酒店房间价格,如此,被指控方的价格协议便限制了不同在线酒店预订平台上相同酒店的竞争,即品牌内竞争;在面对折扣限制时,新进入市场的在线酒店预订平台所带来的福利(如低价促销)并不能有效地传导给消费者,其市场份额的扩大自然受到限制,从这方面看,被指控方的价格协议有可能阻止新的在线酒店预订平台进入市场; 11但是如果具有竞争力的酒店足够多,则不同的酒店针对那些在线酒店预订平台可以提供竞争性的价格,这就属于酒店品牌间的竞争。此外,在线酒店预订网站还可以通过非价格形式在客房销售方面展开竞争、或通过将酒店客房和其他旅游项目捆绑的形式展开竞争。所以,判断MFN条款这种纵向限制是否对竞争造成抑制效果,还需要对品牌间竞争是否充分做出衡量。 12

可以看出,OFT在调查过程中从多方面考量了MFN条款对于在线酒店预订市场竞争的影响;在接受被指控方的承诺时OFT对被指控方的价格协议进行了分析,包括对价格协议对品牌内竞争、品牌间竞争以及市场壁垒的分析,这实际上体现了"合理原则"的分析思路。

(a) 法国竞争执法机构ADLC的调查

法国、瑞典和意大利几乎同时展开了对Booking.com的调查,且最终通过了非常相似的承诺决定。

法国竞争执法机构ADLC在对Booking.com进行调查时,认为对于MFN条款的评价应当具体问题具体分析,而该分析取决于具体的合同条款、公司的市场地位以及市场的实际运行。ADLC在分析Booking.com所签订的MFN条款时,同时评估了MFN条款的效率收益与潜在反竞争效果,其中效率收益包括降低"搜索成本"以及避免"搭便车"问题,而潜在反竞争效果包括抑制通常存在于经济运营者收费价格与需求量之间的自然联系、提高市场进入门槛以及大规模使用MFN条款造成的市场累积效应;在法律评估过程中,ADLC先对相关市场进行界定并估算Booking.com的市场份额,再结合《欧盟运作条约》第101条和第102条对Booking.com的MFN条款作出评价,认为MFN条款具有潜在的或实际的反竞争效果。 132015年4月21日,Booking.com正式向ADLC作出承诺,取消限制酒店和在线酒店预订平台折扣的条款。

ADLC在调查Booking.com过程中总体思路为,区分MFN条款的促进竞争效果和抑制竞争效果,综合考量市场状况和Booking.com的市场份额,对MFN条款的促进竞争效果和反竞争效果进行评价,而非直接认定MFN条款本身违法。尽管在许多重要部分,例如在结合《欧盟运作条约》对MFN条款进行评价方面,ADLC并没有作详细分析,但是正如学者所言,使用承诺制度的代价是牺牲具体且合理论证的决定。

(b) 德国联邦卡特尔局FCO的调查

德国联邦卡特尔局FCO在2013年12月20日已经对在线酒店预订平台HRS的"最惠价格条款"作出处罚。HRS的"最惠价格条款"要求合作酒店方为HRS在线酒店预订平台提供的综合单价和预定条件应当与合作酒店方在自家网站上和在其他平台上的报价以及条件相对等。这类"最惠价格条款"被称为"广义最惠价格条款"(wide MFN)。HRS的"广义最惠价格条款"被认定为违法后,Booking.com还是继续实施"最惠价格条款",但与HRS不同的是,Booking.com的"最惠价格条款"仅要求合作酒店方提供的综合单价和预定条件与其在其他在线酒店预订平台上的报价以及条件相对等,该条款也被称为"狭义最惠价格条款"(narrow MFN)。

2013年12月FCO开始对Booking.com进行调查。FCO首先将相关市场界定为酒店预订中间服务市场。在相关市场范围内,"最惠价格条款"限制竞争的效果表现在:1、限制了酒店方对不同预订平台区别定价的动机;2、排斥潜在的市场竞争;3、不仅限制了在线酒店预订平台的竞争,还会将限制竞争的效果传导至酒店服务市场。另外,FCO认为Booking.com不能适用豁免。最终,FCO认定Booking.com的"狭义最惠价格条款"违反竞争法,并要求Booking.com移除"最惠价格条款"。

可以看出,FCO在调查Booking.com时也综合考量相关市场内以及毗邻市场的竞争状况,对案中的价格条款即MFN条款进行合理分析。另外,FCO对于"狭义最惠价格条款"也是不予以容忍的。 14

(a) 澳大利亚竞争与消费者委员会ACCC的调查

澳大利亚也对Booking.com和Expedia与酒店方签订的MFN条款展开了调查。2016年9月2日,澳大利亚竞争与消费者委员会ACCC宣布其已着手进行了一系列调查,包括对澳大利亚酒店方进行在线问卷以获取它们同在线酒店预订平台进行交易的特定信息。在审查了500份问卷反馈并与市场参与者进行沟通后,ACCC最终锁定关键问题在于在线酒店预订平台的平行价格与酒店房间获取条款。最终,Booking.com和Expedia同意移除其与酒店方签订的平行条款(即MFN条款),使得酒店方能够根据消费者需求与自身经营需求自由提供酒店服务。 15

从ACCC的公告中可以看出,ACCC向酒店方定向发放问卷并与市场参与者进行访谈的方式体现了ACCC注重对市场实际情况的考察并进行合理分析。

2.2 苹果公司电子书案 16

2010年,苹果公司欲进入电子书市场,于是与五家出版商分别签订电子书销售代理协议,约定电子书售价以及分成比例。同时,为了对抗亚马逊9.9美元的低价策略,苹果公司与五家出版商分别达成MFN条款,约定若苹果的电子书售价高于其他电子书销售商的售价,则出版商必须调整对苹果的报价,使苹果电子书的价格与其他电子书销售商的价格持平。

(a) 美国第二巡回上诉法院的判决

2012年4月11日,美国司法部及33个州对苹果公司提起诉讼,指控苹果公司与出版商合谋提高并固定电子书价格,违反了《谢尔曼法》第一条的规定。2013年7月纽约地区法院判决苹果公司积极、主动地促成了与出版商之间涉及MFN条款的合同,构成了横向垄断协议。苹果公司与其中两家出版商上诉至美国第二巡回上诉法院,提出苹果与五家出版商之间签订的代理协议和其中的MFN条款是"平行但是独立的纵向协议"。但是,第二巡回上诉法院同意地区法院的观点,认为苹果促使了出版商之间的横向共谋,原因在于:苹果公司意图进入电子书市场,而出版商意图阻止亚马逊威胁纸质书的销售,同时由自己主导电子书价格。然而亚马逊的电子书定价较低,苹果公司建构的单纯的代理模式并不能对亚马逊形成威胁。此时,苹果公司的MFN条款迫使出版商必须降低对苹果的报价,同时迫使出版商与亚马逊以代理模式而非批发模式销售电子书,即苹果公司在与出版商达成平行纵向协议的同时,MFN条款也暗含苹果与出版商以及出版商之间的协同意图。最终,美国第二巡回上诉法院维持了纽约地区法院的判决。

(b) 欧盟委员会的调查

2011年12月6日欧盟委员会展开对电子书出版商的正式调查。欧盟委员会称,五家出版商在苹果公司的帮助下实施反竞争行为,影响了欧洲地区电子书的销售,违反了欧盟竞争法。2012年9月12日至18日,四家出版公司与苹果分别向欧盟委员会作出承诺以消除其经营行为引起的竞争问题。欧盟委员会认为,苹果公司与出版公司联合将电子书销售模式从批发模式转换为内含MFN条款的代理模式,造成出版商之间的共谋。苹果与四家出版商承诺终止代理协议,且五年之内不签订MFN条款。2013年7月25日,欧盟委员会接受了苹果公司和出版商终止代理协议、五年内不签订MFN条款的承诺。 17

需要注意的是,从美国法院的判决和欧盟委员会的调查过程可以看出,虽然MFN条款表面上是处于纵向关系的经营者签订的协议条款,但若经营者利用代理模式,结合MFN条款固定商品价格,便会引起横向共谋的问题。

2.3 亚马逊案

(a) 德国联邦卡特尔局FCO的调查

2013年11月26日,FCO称其已针对亚马逊的Market-place平台进行了调查。亚马逊的业务分为自营和第三方零售,零售商需与亚马逊签订协议以入驻Market-place平台。2012年之前,亚马逊便在与零售商签订协议中强加平行价格条款(price parity clause,类似MFN条款),该条款阻止第三方零售商在其他平台以比在Market-place更低的价格销售商品。

FCO认为,由于亚马逊除了经营Market-place平台以外,自身也提供商品零售服务,因此亚马逊与零售商签订的协议并不是单纯的纵向协议。FCO将本案的相关市场界定为德国范围内的B2C(Business to Consumer)在线零售平台服务市场,并认为亚马逊与零售商签订的协议构成横向价格固定协议,亚马逊与第三方零售商在所有产品类别中具有普遍竞争关系,所以亚马逊与零售商签订的平行价格协议属于对竞争的核心限制。由于平行价格条款锁定了平台上产品的售价,因此终端消费者无法享受更优惠的价格,新竞争者进入市场更加困难、既有竞争者扩张市场份额也受到阻碍。另外,FCO在竞争评估中也考虑了亚马逊与零售商所签协议的促进竞争的效果,例如提高了货物分销的效率、便于消费者搜索商品,但是这些都无法说明平行价格条款是必不可少的,或者说明签订平行价格条款是正当的提价方式。 18最终,亚马逊为避免相关法律风险,宣布放弃对于平行价格条款的适用。

从FCO的分析中可以指出,在分析MFN条款时,需要全面分析条款签订双方的关系,特别是是否存在横向竞争关系。该案与Booking.com案和苹果电子书案的不同之处在于,亚马逊与零售商之间存在纵向关系的同时也存在横向竞争关系,这样的关系也使得MFN条款的性质发生了变化。

(b) 日本公平贸易委员会JFTC的调查

2016年8月9日,JFTC突击搜查了亚马逊的日本办公室。据悉,亚马逊在日本营运的电商平台涉嫌强制零售商将在该平台销售的商品设置更低的价格——明显低于在其他平台上的定价,以保持竞争优势。该案调查还在进行中,值得持续关注。

3. 结语

从Booking.com案中可以看出,多数执法机构在调查MFN条款时会考量MFN条款存在期间相关市场的竞争状况以及MFN条款的促进竞争效果和反竞争效果,综合评判MFN条款是否违反竞争法。另外,从苹果电子书案和亚马逊案中还可以看出,在当下互联网行业迅猛发展,经营者之间的横向关系和纵向关系已变得更加复杂,MFN条款的性质也随着经营者之间横向、纵向关系的复杂化而发生着变化,这使得法院和执法机构无法直接认定MFN条款本身违法,而需要结合市场结构对MFN条款进行具体分析。 19

总之,作为纵向限制,MFN条款具有促进和限制竞争的两面性。因此,实践中当某一案件涉及MFN条款时,对于该条款及涉案行为的定性不仅需要借助案件中多方面的因素进行综合、全面地评估,还有必要运用经济学的方法进行定量分析。正如国内学者所言,对于MFN条款进行精确定位、准确发现问题并正确适用反垄断法,使得MFN条款既能够发挥其对市场竞争的促进作用,又能隔离反竞争效果,最终使得对于该条款的定性有利于行业及社会经济的发展趋势。 20

注释:

[1]黄世席:《国际投资仲裁中最惠国条款的适用和管辖权的新发展》,载《西北政法大学学报》2013年第2期。

[2]黄勇、田辰:《网络分销模式中最惠国待遇条款的反垄断法分析》,载《法学论坛》2014年第9期。

[3]同上2。

[4]Jennifer D. Lee., How Should Most-Favored Nation Clauses Be Treated Now?, Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal, 2015.

[5]Directorate For Financial and Enterprise Affairs, DAF/COMP/WD(2007)112, OECD.

[6]European Commission Guidelines on Vertical Restraints, paragraph 48.

[7]OFT press release 65/12 of 31 July 2012.

[8]http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140402142426/http://www.oft.gov.uk/news-and-updates/press/2012/65-12.

[9]OFT issues Statement of Objections against Booking.com, Expedia and Intercontinental Hotels Group: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140402142426/http://www.oft.gov.uk/news-and-updates/press/2012/65-12.

[10]http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140402142426/http://www.oft.gov.uk/news-and-updates/press/2012/65-12.

[11]The Office of Fair Trading, Hotel online bookingDecision to accept commitments to remove certain discounting restrictions for Online Travel Agent., http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140402142426/http://www.oft.gov.uk/shared_oft/ca-and-cartels/oft1514dec.pdf.

[12]同上2。

[13]Olivier Billard & Pierre Honoré: Most Favored Nation Clauses: A French Perspective on the Booking.com Case, CPI Antitrust Chronicle, May 2015.

[14]http://www.bundeskartellamt.de/SharedDocs/Entscheidung/EN/Entscheidungen/Kartellverbot/B9-121-13.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=2.

[15]http://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/expedia-and-bookingcom-agree-to-reinvigorate-price-competition-by-amending-contracts-with-australian-hotels.

[16]United States v. Apple, Inc. 791 F. 3d 290, U.S. 2015.

[17]European Commission: http://ec.europa.eu/competition/elojade/isef/case_details.cfm?proc_code=1_39847.

[18]Bundeskartellamt: Amazon removes price parity obligation for retailers on its Marketplace platform.

[19]苏华:《分销行为的反垄断规制》,法律出版社2012年版,第9页。

[20]同上2。

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