Hong Kong’s Competition Ordinance will come into full effect on 14 December 2015. Until then, decision and block exemption applications will not be accepted, but the Competition Commission (the commission) will enter into preliminary discussions with potential applicants.
The Competition Ordinance (Commencement) (No.2) Notice 2015 (Commencement Notice) was published in the Hong Kong Government Gazette on 17 July 2015. The Commencement Notice appointed 14 December 2015 as the commencement date for the Competition Ordinance (Cap. 619) (ordinance) to come into full effect. This means that the first conduct rule (against anti-competitive agreements and concerted practices), second conduct rule (against market power) and merger rule (currently applicable only to telecoms companies) will be effective from that date.
Dr. Stanley Wong, Chief Executive Officer of the Commission, has underlined: “The Government’s announcement of a date for full commencement of the Ordinance should serve as a reminder to businesses, trade associations and others to review their practices and conduct to ensure that they do not contravene the ordinance”.
Furthermore, on 21 July 2015, the Commission issued a press statement entitled “Handling competition matters before full commencement of the Competition Ordinance”. This press statement makes two points:
- “The Commission will not accept before the date of full commencement, applications for a decision under sections 9 and 24 of the ordinance or for a block exemption order. However, if parties intend to apply for a decision or block exemption order after commencement, the Commission is prepared, subject to available resources, to enter into preliminary discussions with the parties in respect of those applications in advance of the date of full commencement”.
- “As the date of full commencement approaches, the Commission will, in appropriate cases, contact businesses and other relevant parties directly if the Commission considers that their conduct or practice may be considered anti-competitive and, therefore, likely to contravene the ordinance after full commencement”.
It seems that the aim of the press statement is to give some comfort to industries and companies that would already like the certainty of a block exemption or decision but find that the commission will not accept applications before 14 December 2015. Thus the procedure outlined above might help bridge the gap between 14 December 2915 and the date on which applications are decided and thus reduce uncertainty.
According to an earlier commission press release, dated 17 July 2015, the final version of the six guidelines (which reflect the commission’s interpretation of the ordinance) will be published shortly and its leniency policy and a statement of enforcement priorities will be released before the ordinance comes into full operation. These publications should further assist companies in preparing for the new competition law regime.