Worldwide: 主动策略在反垄断申报中的合理运用:商务部第二起先行修正案例评析

Last Updated: March 6 2017
Article by Dentons  

主动策略在反垄断申报中的合理运用:商务部第二起先行修正案例评析

2016-08-04 反垄断实务评论 作者:邓志松 戴健民

依据中国的《反垄断法》,经营者集中的申报和审查是几乎所有重大并购交易都必须经历的法定程序。而对于并购交易而言,反垄断审查时间的长短有着至关重要的影响。对于那些因为市场份额较高等因素而可能导致并购交易产生竞争影响的交易,如何尽快通过反垄断审查,无疑是交易当事人和代理律师面临的最大挑战。虽然大多数经营者集中反垄断申报案件中都是由审查主管机关即商务部主动提出竞争关切,但实践中对于那些明显可能具有市场竞争影响的交易,有经验的交易方和代理律师也会采取主动策略,以尽可能缩短反垄断审查时间,典型的就是采取先行修正的方案(Fix It First)。

2016年7月29日,中国商务部公布2016年第38号公告,附条件批准百威英博啤酒集团(Anheuser-Busch InBev,以下称"百威英博")收购英国南非米勒酿酒公司(SAB Miller,以下称"南非米勒")全部股权案,要求南非米勒将其持有的华润雪花啤酒有限公司(以下称"华润雪花")49%股权出售给华润啤酒(控股)有限公司(以下称"华润啤酒"),以消除本次交易对中国啤酒市场带来的排除、限制竞争影响。

本案是商务部2016年公布的首起附条件批准的经营者集中案件,也是自《中华人民共和国反垄断法》于2008年8月1日实施以来第27起附条件批准的案件。值得注意的是,本案是第2起采用先行修正(fix it first)方案获得商务部附条件批准的案件,第1起先行修正的案例是2014年11月附条件批准的恩智浦收购飞思卡尔案。

1.  案情概述

1.1 本次交易

百威英博是全球第一大啤酒公司,南非米勒是全球第二大啤酒公司,本次交易金额约为1060亿美元。由于对全球啤酒市场影响巨大,本次交易需要在全球二十多个司法辖区进行经营者集中反垄断申报。其中,本次交易于2016年3月初向商务部提交了反垄断申报,3月29日获得立案,并于7月29日获得批准。

1.2 竞争问题

根据商务部公告,本次交易在中国啤酒市场上具有排除、限制竞争的效果。整体而言,中国啤酒市场竞争者数量有限,集中度较高;从2014年销售量看,排名前五位的市场竞争者依次为华润雪花(南非米勒持有其49%股权)、青岛啤酒、百威英博、燕京啤酒和嘉士伯,合计市场份额达80%左右;其中,华润雪花和百威英博合计市场份额达43%。

具体而言,商务部将本次交易的相关产品市场界定为大众化啤酒和中高档啤酒两个市场(业界通常以5元/500毫升作为分界点),将相关地域市场界定为中国各省级行政区域(考虑到啤酒运输成本相对其价格较高,啤酒生产商通常根据省份布局生产厂并安排分销,不同啤酒品牌主要在省级区域内展开竞争)。经过对交易双方存在横向重叠的24个省级区域的大众化啤酒和中高档啤酒市场进行考察,商务部发现交易双方在其中15个省级区域的合并市场份额超过50%(在部分省级区域甚至超过70%),在其他省级区域也具备了迅速进入市场并增强市场控制力的能力。

除了合并市场份额高以外,交易双方还有能力控制啤酒销售渠道,提高啤酒市场的进入壁垒,而且下游经销商并无抗衡能力。综合考虑各项因素后,商务部认为本次交易对相关市场具有排除、限制竞争的效果,最终对中国消费者的利益造成损害。

1.3 限制性条件

为解决上述竞争问题,交易双方向商务部提交了多轮方案。最后商务部认为,百威英博和南非米勒分别于2016年7月14日和7月21日向商务部提交的限制性条件最终方案(主要是将南非米勒持有的华润雪花49%股权出售给华润啤酒)可以解决竞争问题,并随后附条件放行了本次交易。

需要说明的是,百威英博实际上早在3月14日(商务部立案之前)就已经向商务部提交了限制性条件建议及其与华润啤酒签订的关于出售南非米勒持有的华润雪花49%股权的《买卖协议》。这种解决竞争问题的做法被称为"先行修正"。

2.  先行修正

2.1 含义

先行修正在不同的司法辖区有不同的含义和做法,中国目前尚无法律明确规定其含义。根据商务部现有的两起案例(本案以及商务部2015年11月25日附条件批准的恩智浦收购飞思卡尔全部股权案),先行修正包括以下元素:

1)适用范围:一般适用于剥离资产的限制性条件;

2)提出时点:可以在商务部指出竞争问题之前主动提出先行修正方案,或者在商务部指出竞争问题之后、做出决定之前提出方案;

3)方案内容:明确剥离资产的买方,并与其签署具有约束力的资产出售协议;

4)实施时间:先行修正方案需要在商务部做出决定之前予以确定,但是不一定需要在商务部做出决定之前就实施完毕,一般可以在商务部做出决定之后再实施。但是,为了确保剥离业务的存续性、竞争性和可销售性,商务部会限定实施先行修正方案的时间。在本次交易中,商务部就要求交易双方在完成交易后的24小时内实施完毕先行修正方案;在恩智浦收购飞思卡尔案中,商务部要求交易双方在完成交易以前必须先实施完毕先行修正方案(虽然没有明确规定时间,但是间接地促使交易双方尽快实施完毕先行修正方案)。

如同其字面意思,先行修正就是指在商务部放行交易之前要把解决竞争的方案确定下来。换句话说,寻找剥离资产的买方、商务部对买方进行评估、制定和修改出售协议等一系列工作要在商务部做出附条件批准决定之前完成。

2.2 与事后修正和买家前置的区别

在这里,事后修正是指在商务部做出剥离资产的附条件批准决定以后,再由交易双方去寻找剥离资产的买方、商务部对买方进行评估、制定和修改剥离协议等一系列工作。

根据商务部《关于经营者集中附加限制性条件的规定(试行)》,对于事后修正,交易方必须在附条件批准决定规定的期限内向商务部提交至少三个买方人选及其与买方拟签订的出售协议。决定中未规定期限的,则期限为六个月,有特殊情况的可以延长三个月。

买家前置(up-front buyer)是事后修正中的一个特别手段,即要求交易双方必须首先找到剥离资产的买方并签订协议,否则不得完成他们的交易。《关于经营者集中附加限制性条件的规定(试行)》第十四条规定:"在下列情况下,商务部可以要求剥离义务人在集中实施之前寻找买方并签订出售协议:(一)剥离之前维持剥离业务的竞争性和可销售性存在较大风险;(二)买方的身份对剥离业务能否恢复市场竞争具有决定性影响;(三)第三方对剥离业务主张权利。"

与先行修正相比,事后修正无法保证可以及时找到合适的买方,而买家前置仅能够在一定程度上弥补这一缺陷。

2.3 先行修正的好处

对于交易方而言,先行修正可以使他们具有较大的主动权,可以在时间压力相对较小的情况下选择潜在的剥离资产买家并与其讨价还价和签订协议。相比之下,事后修正需要交易方在规定的期限内至少提交三个买方候选人并尽快签订协议,而且在较大的时间压力下交易方可能最终不得不低价出售资产。

对于商务部而言,先行修正可以最大程度地保持剥离资产的价值和竞争力,也可以在需要时与其他司法辖区的竞争执法机构进行充分协调。

2.4 采用先行修正的注意事项

首先,交易方在向商务部提交申报前,最好事先对交易可能存在的竞争问题进行充分评估,并准备好相应的解决方案(包括备选方案)。如此,可以在提交申报后尽快向商务部主动提出竞争问题并提交方案。如果是在商务部指出竞争问题以后再准备方案,则时间压力仍然较大,可能失去了先行修正的意义。

其次,交易方准备的先行修正方案在商务部评估之后可能需要修改,因此交易方与剥离资产买方所签订的协议需要具有一定的灵活性,包括出售资产的范围、价格、交割时间等方面。

第三,交易方在申报前可以申请与商务部进行事前商谈,将潜在的竞争问题和先行修正方案与商务部进行初步沟通,使商务部对背景有所了解并进行准备。

第四,如果交易需要在全球多个司法辖区进行反垄断申报,则最好一并将在其他司法辖区采取的方案告知商务部。目前,全球许多司法辖区的竞争执法机构之间建立了良好的沟通机制,他们可能对特定方案进行协调。

最后,先行修正并非万灵药,某些情况下可能事后修正更具有可行性。但是,交易方仍然最好在申报之前事先充分评估潜在的竞争问题,尽量多做准备。

3.  结语

商务部审理的两起采用先行修正的案件都是相关领域内全球前两位竞争者之间的并购案,交易金额巨大且备受市场关注。对于这类规模的并购,交易方通常都会进行充分的事前竞争评估,而且提前考虑可能的限制性条件方案。如前所述,先行修正方案使交易方具有较大的主动权,且有助于使交易尽快完成交割,因此成为交易方的一个不错的选择。目前,虽然先行修正在中国的案例还比较少,但在欧美已经广泛使用,相信未来会有更多的人了解并采用先行修正。

中国商务部处理经营者集中案件的专业能力已为实践所证明,也为国际同行所认可。从技术角度而言,特定并购交易的竞争问题是客观的,不以交易当事方的意志力为转移。有丰富经验的律师可以在充分评估有关竞争影响的基础之上,提出采取主动策略的建议,通过先行修正此类方案提前解决竞争关切,从而使得商务部可以大幅缩短反垄断审查时间,保障商业交易的顺利和及时完成。

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