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Antitrust in Asia 2021

Impact of COVID-19

Competition authorities around Asia have adopted a pragmatic approach towards enforcement during the coronavirus pandemic, and a number of them have offered guidance to businesses contemplating collaborative measures necessitated by the health crisis.

China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) was among the first authorities in Asia to advise businesses that it would take a pragmatic approach to mergers, and the distribution and supply of certain products, targeted at addressing the pandemic. However, SAMR highlighted its continuing strict stance towards specific practices such as resale price maintenance and excessive pricing.

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) issued an advisory to businesses for conducting operations during the pandemic, recognising the benefits of co-ordinating certain activities to ensure continued supply and distribution of certain products and services, while stressing that such co-ordination should be necessary and proportionate.

The Hong Kong Competition Commission (HKCC) similarly issued a statement to remind businesses that the Competition Ordinance continued to apply in full during the pandemic, but noted that it will take a pragmatic approach to enforcement and invited businesses to informally consult on their temporary co-operative measures.

Singapore’s competition authority issued a guidance note clarifying that certain collaborations to improve the supply of essential goods and services during the pandemic are assumed to generate net economic benefits and will not be subject to investigation.

All three competition authorities also issued similar warnings reminding businesses to refrain from using the pandemic as a cover for anti-competitive conduct.

When it comes to merger control, the Philippines introduced domestic legislation that temporarily increased the jurisdictional thresholds for review significantly and suspended the power of the Philippines Competition Commission (PCC) to conduct ex-officio investigations into mergers for a year. The Indonesia Competition Commission has extended its deadline for submissions under its mandatory post-closing merger notification regime.

The pandemic also led to an uptick in technological adoption among certain competition authorities in Asia.

  • In the Philippines, the PCC set up a dedicated web portal for consumers or affected businesses to lodge COVID-19-related complaints.
  • In India, the CCI accepted merger filings and antitrust-related submissions online and even conducted virtual hearings for ongoing antitrust matters.
  • In Hong Kong, the HKCC adopted comprehensive work-from-home measures for its staff, and conducted meetings and interviews online.