United States: 日本におけるLNG輸入契約に関する 考察及び再交渉

 日本の公正取引委員会は、海外から日本へ輸入される液化天然ガス(LNG)の転売制限が不当に競争を阻害しているおそれがあるとして近時調査を開始しました。当該調査は、日本のLNG輸入市場に劇的な変化をもたらす可能性があります。

日本における展開

日本は世界のLNG産出量のうち3分の1以上を輸入しています。LNGは、日本において発電用燃料及び都市ガスとして利用されていますが、10年から20年の長期に及ぶ契約期間で、いわゆる「仕向地制限条項」を盛り込んだ契約に基づき調達されるのが一般的です。当該条項は、第三者へのLNGの転売を制限することで、市場分割によるLNGの売り手の権益保護を意図したものです。LNGの売り手の多くは、日本(及び他の北方アジアのLNG調達国)に対するLNG販売において当該条項を盛り込むことに成功してきました。

しかしながら、日本における市場環境は急速に変化しています。LNGの買い手である日本企業は、原発の再稼働及び再生可能エネルギーへの依存度増加、並びに日本におけるガス、電気の自由化等の影響で、LNGの消費量が輸入計画及び約定量を下回ることによる余剰在庫のリスクに直面しており、将来的にはLNGの転売を可能とする契約の柔軟化が必要になると見込まれています。

2016年5月、経済産業省が発表したエネルギー白書によれば、①EUにおける仕向地制限条項緩和・撤廃の経験も参考にした、競争法の観点から見た仕向地制限条項の精査及び②アジアを始めとするLNG輸入国との連携等により、LNGの市場流動性向上に向け取組を続けることが重要とされています。また、仕向地制限条項緩和の必要性は、2016年5月に開催されたG7 エネルギー大臣会合においても確認されました。

近時の報道によれば、公正取引委員会は、既存のLNG輸入条件を明確にし、市場の構造や取引慣行などを把握するため、LNG調達契約を収集し、電力、ガス会社等LNGの輸入企業からの聞き取り調査を行っているとのことです。

経済産業省が近時公表した資料によれば、供給事業者と日本及び韓国の主要な需要家が締結したLNG長期調達契約のうち、約8割に仕向地制限条項が盛り込まれていると試算されています。当該条項は、買い手の事業活動に対する不当な制約を禁止する私的独占の禁止及び公正取引の確保に関する法律(「独占禁止法」) に違反する可能性が高いと考えられています。 LNG輸入契約に関して禁止される行為の例としては、直接的な転売制限とは別に、転売に関する利益分配の計算において、追加費用の控除を認めない条項、転売先及び転売価格に関する秘密情報の開示を要求する条項、分配利益の速やかな計算が確保できない条項が挙げられます。

独占禁止法は海外における事業活動にも適用されることから、公正取引委員会が違反の認定をした場合、LNG取引に係る取決めも変更する必要に迫られます。現時点では公正取引委員会は公式な見解を発表していませんが、年内には独占禁止法違反のおそれがある旨の見解が公表されるとの報道がなされています。

ヨーロッパの経験から学べること

ヨーロッパは、過去に、ガス及びLNGの売買契約に関して同様の見直しを迫られた経験があるため、日本向けLNG売買契約の再交渉にあたっては、ヨーロッパでの経験を活かすことが可能です。

2002年から2007年にかけて、ECにおいて、複数のガス及びLNGの供給会社が関わる案件について、いくつも重要な決定がなされました(それらは、まとめてアルジェリアケース(又はソナトラックケース)などと呼ばれます)。これらの決定の内容を総合すると、ECは、買い手が商品の輸送について責任を負う取引(パイプラインを利用したガスの生産現場(プロダクション・ポイント)取引及び本船甲板渡し条件(FOB)に基づくLNG取引)において、仕向地の変更を制限する条項、仕向地を固定する条項、及び転売を制限する条項はいずれも法的拘束力がなく、関連契約から削除されるべきと判断したといえます。逆に、ECの判断として、取引条件が本船着桟渡し条件(DES)であって、かつ(買い手だけにその分配利益から仕向地の変更に伴う増加コストを負担させるという方式ではなく)売り手・買い手間の利益分配前にかかる増加コストを両者に均等に負担させる方式の利益折半(プロフィット・シェアリング)のメカニズムが盛り込まれている場合には、それらの条項はFOBの場合ほど大きな問題とはいえないかもしれないとのことです。

日本のLNG調達事業者の多くは、これまで主にDESの条件でLNGを購入してきた経緯があることから、仕向地を完全にコントロールされていた過去の契約から、仕向地の変更が許容される代わりに売主・買主双方にメリットがあるように利益とコスト折半するという新方式に移行するにあたっては、その方法につき十分に注意する必要があります。

日本のLNG調達事業者にとっては、こうしたLNG 売買契約の条件の変更について、規制当局に強制される前にコマーシャルに売主と合意することができないか、そのために何か有用な先例がないかという点も重要な関心事であろうと思われますところ、繰り返しになりますが、ここでも( 少し前のこととはいえ)ヨーロッパの経験が役に立つと思われます。英国では、1980年代の後半にガス自由化が行われると、独占的なガス購入者であったブリティッシュ・ガスは、自社のガスの調達先であるすべての売り手との間で、それまで高価格かつ長期のコミットメントが求められていた契約の見直しに着手しました。これらの契約の再交渉は1990年代初めまで続けられました。これらの交渉がうまくいったことが、ブリティッシュ・ガスが現在も優良企業として存続している理由の一つとなっているわけですが、そのときの契約再交渉は法的にその必要があったわけでも、また契約上再交渉できる権利があったわけでもありませんでした。

最後に

経済産業省及び公正取引委員会は、日本にとって最善の制度を構築するにあたり、EUにおける天然ガス及びLNGに対する規制の経緯を考慮する可能性が非常に高いため、EU市場における規制緩和から得られる教訓は日本及び他の北方アジア諸国の市場関係者にとって極めて有益なものです。日本のLNG輸入に係る今後の方向性は、公正取引委員会の判断次第ではあるものの、EUの天然ガス輸入市場における先例にならうものと考えられます。

日本における変化はやがて韓国及び他の北方アジア諸国におけるLNG輸入市場にも波及するでしょう。仕向地制限条項を修正する場合、LNG の買い手は、従前に比べより有利な条件を売り手から引き出すことが可能であり、ひいては世界のLNG需給に影響を与えるほどの日本を中心とする新たなLNG市場が到来するでしょう。

もっとも、日本及び北方アジア諸国におけるLNG契約の(既存契約、近い将来における更新契約及び新規契約での)新方式への移行にあたっては、契約上の商業バランスがそのまま保持されるよう、また価格見直し条項、ハードシップ条項又は不可抗力条項に意図せず抵触することのないよう注意する必要があります。

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