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Antitrust M&A Snapshot | Q1 2021

As the United States rounds the corner toward getting the COVID-19 epidemic under control within its borders, the US antitrust enforcers have seen a major spike in Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) premerger filings. In addition, the healthcare and technology industries can expect to remain under close watch by US enforcement agencies as the Biden administration continues to appoint progressive antitrust scholars to key leadership and advisory roles. And for the first time in many decades, the FTC has filed suit to block a vertical merger, indicating a more aggressive posture towards vertical transactions.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is focusing on “green killer acquisitions,” highlighting the interplay between the EU competition rules and the European Union’s environmental protection objectives. The Commission also published its evaluation of the functioning of the EU merger control rules in light of rapidly changing market realities. And in parallel with the publication of its evaluation findings, the Commission issued practical guidance that has the potential to create meaningful new transaction risk for mergers by subjecting more deals to in-depth Commission review.

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Antitrust M&A Snapshot | FTC and DOJ Continue M&A Transaction Investigation While UK CMA Continues Role as Key Jurisdiction in Merger Clearance Process

Antitrust regulators in the United States and Europe were very active in the final quarter of 2019. The FTC and DOJ continue to investigate and challenge M&A transactions in a variety of industries. Events of this quarter highlight the importance of states in merger enforcement. As well, recent FTC activity highlights the regulators’ focus on preventing monopolists from buying nascent competitors.

In Europe, the UK CMA continues to expand its role as a key jurisdiction in the merger clearance process, which will only accelerate with Brexit. The EC agreed to clear, subject to conditions, acquisitions in the aluminum production and battery industries as well as in the wholesale supply and retail distribution of TV channels after conducting Phase II reviews. Moreover, the EC opened new in-depth investigations into transactions in the copper refining and engineering sectors.

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Antitrust M&A Snapshot | DOJ Arbitrates Market Definition Dispute While EC Clears Acquisition of Broadband and Energy Networks

There was significant antitrust activity in the third quarter of 2019. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) continued an active docket challenging M&A transactions. DOJ is resolving antitrust reviews significantly faster than the FTC, following DOJ’s 2018 policy establishing a six-month target. The DOJ also made use, for the first time, of its authority to arbitrate a market definition dispute, potentially opening the door for a new tool the DOJ could employ to resolve challenges more rapidly.

In the European Union, the European Commission (EC) agreed to clear, subject to conditions, the acquisition of broadband and energy networks following lengthy Phase 2 investigations. Meanwhile, the national European regulators opened new in-depth investigations into commercial radio advertising, software as a service for airlines, autonomous sea surface vehicles and the promotion of live music events (all in the UK) and prohibited the merger of two recyclers (Germany).

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Overview of the Proposed Reforms of the EU Merger Control Regime

In the past couple of years, the European Commission has decided to review and evaluate the functioning of different aspects of the EU merger control regime regulated by EU Regulation No. 139/2004 of 20 January 2004 on the control of concentrations between undertakings (the EU Merger Regulation), its implementing regulation and related notices and guidelines.

The process started in 2014 when the Commission adopted a White Paper titled “Towards More Effective EU Merger Control” (the White Paper), which presented the Commission’s view that EU merger control worked well and that no fundamental overhaul of the system was needed. The Commission did, however, identify specific amendments to the EU Merger Regulation to make it more effective.

In the wake of the positive feedback it received during the consultation it organised following the publication of the White Paper, the Commission launched another public consultation in October 2016 on the “Evaluation of procedural and jurisdictional aspects of EU merger control”, through which it is seeking feedback from stakeholders on the effectiveness of certain additional procedural and jurisdictional aspects of EU merger control. Stakeholders have until 13 January 2017 to respond.

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European Commission Launches New Cartel Reporting Tool, Member States Laud the Role of Whistleblowers

European Commissioner of Competition Margrethe Vestager made news when she announced that the European Commission had launched a new IT system enabling individuals to anonymously report cartel activity. In parallel, several EU Member States have–in recent weeks–highlighted the role of individual informants in their own enforcement efforts. Taken together, these developments show that the stakes of effective and meaningful antitrust compliance continue to rise, as individuals have more avenues to report anticompetitive conduct.

Speaking in Berlin on March 16, 2017, Commissioner Vestager stated, “We’ve discovered a lot of cartels thanks to leniency programs […] But we don’t just rely on leniency. We pay attention to other methods as well. And that includes encouraging individuals to come forward, when their conscience is troubled by the information that they have about a cartel. That’s why we recently launched a new IT system to help people tell us anonymously about cartels. The system means that we can communicate both ways with them without risking their anonymity while we gather information.”

Commissioner Vestager noted that the European Commission’s new system is modelled on a system implemented by the German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) in 2012. Notably, the FCO itself published a brochure in late February 2017 titled “Effective Cartel Enforcement” highlighting, among other things, the success of its whistleblowing program. The FCO noted that its system is accessible from its website and “guarantees the anonymity of informers while still allowing for continual reciprocal communication with the investigative staff [at the FCO] via a secure electronic mailbox.” Between June 2012 and December 2016, the FCO reports receiving 1,420 tips, “some of which” have led to proceedings resulting in fines.

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Antitrust Enforcers Discuss Recent Highlights, Ongoing Cases, Enforcement Priorities and General Trends at the 2015 ABA Section of Antitrust Law Spring Meeting

The American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Antitrust Law Spring Meeting concluded earlier this month with the traditional “Enforcers’ Roundtable,” an interview with leading competition authorities about recent highlights, ongoing cases, enforcement priorities and general trends.

This year’s participants were Bill Baer, U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust; Edith Ramirez, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman; Kathleen Foote, Chair of the Multistate Antitrust Task Force of the National Association of Attorneys General; Margrethe Vestager, E.U. Commissioner for Competition; and Lord David Currie, Chairman of the one-year old UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Below is a summary of certain highlights from the discussion.

Recent Domestic Achievements and Enforcement Priorities

Ramirez touted the FTC’s recent U.S. Supreme Court victory in North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners[1], in which the court held that a state licensing board was not entitled to state action immunity because active market participants controlled the board, and the board was not subject to active supervision by the state. Foote noted that states are currently taking steps to ensure compliance with this ruling.

Ramirez also highlighted the FTC’s current efforts to challenge the merger between the nation’s two largest food distributors, Sysco and US Foods. Foote noted that the Sysco/US Foods[2] case is a multistate effort, with 11 state attorneys general collaborating with the FTC.

Enforcement in the pharmaceutical industry, especially pertaining to reverse payment settlements, is a priority, panelists stated. Ramirez discussed the FTC’s ongoing litigation in three reverse payment settlement cases. She noted that in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Actavis[3], the FTC posits that non-monetary payments, such as supply agreements, could constitute reverse payments and thus be subject to antitrust scrutiny.

Foote remarked that reverse payment settlements are also a major state focus, pointing to the recent settlement between the New York Attorney General and two generic pharmaceutical companies, Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc.

Global Cartel Enforcement: a Record-Breaking Year

Baer and Vestager highlighted the increasing number and severity of fines imposed on companies engaged in price-fixing, as well as prison sentences imposed on executives in the U.S. In recent years, enforcers have scrutinized conduct in a range of industries, including financial services, agriculture, ocean shipping, consumer goods and the auto parts industry.

Baer indicated that cartel enforcement accounts for more than 40 percent of the Antitrust Division’s work. Vestager noted that the European Commission (EC) rendered 10 decisions related to cartel activity in 2014, including eight settlements. She noted that settlements are part of the EC’s “toolbox,” but the EC would continue rendering infringement decisions to develop case law.

In contrast to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the EC, Currie said that the CMA’s 2014 cartel record was not as strong as he would have liked and that the CMA received a recent budget increase in part to enhance enforcement efforts.

International Enforcement Cooperation

Each of the panelists praised the quality of international cooperation among antitrust agencies. Vestager said that 60 [...]

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