According to Article 50 of the Anti-Monopoly Law (AML), where any damage is caused by one's monopolistic conduct to the other, one shall be liable for the damage he caused. In practice, it is common that parties to an ordinary commercial contract agree to resolve their disputes by arbitral resolution. However, when one party complains that the other party has implemented a monopolistic conduct as its main claim and sends the case to an arbitration body, the other may raise an objection to jurisdiction on the grounds that the anti-monopoly dispute does not apply to arbitration. Now the problem raised is whether anti-trust civil disputes are arbitrable. This question is more common and more controversial in international business transaction realm. This article aims to discuss on the arbitrability of anti-trust civil disputes based on the practice of China, the United States, and the European Union.
I. The Case of China
A relevant Chinese case arises in 2016. From May 2012 to November 2013, Nanjing Songxu Technology Co., Ltd. ("Songxu"), as a distributor of Samsung (China) Investment Co., Ltd. ("Samsung"), sold Samsung display products in China. The parties agreed in their Distribution Agreement that any dispute arising from the performance of the Agreement shall be submitted to an arbitration body. In 2014, Songxu filed a lawsuit in the Nanjing Intermediate Court against Samsung for its monopolistic conduct in the course of performance. Samsung argued that the dispute should be submitted to an arbitral body for settlement pursuant to their Distribution Agreement, and therefore challenged the jurisdiction with the court. The Nanjing Intermediate Court found for Songxu. It ruled that monopoly disputes were arbitrable, but the arbitration clause was invalid due to the fact that the parties had agreed on two different arbitration institutions in their two separate agreements. Samsung thus appealed in the Jiangsu High Court. In August 2016, the High Court dismissed the appeal and upheld the original ruling, but pointed out that monopoly dispute itself is not arbitrable for the following reasons:
(1) The AML relies on the administrative branch to enforce it pursuant to the existing antitrust laws. The Supreme Court, in its judicial interpretations, only stipulates that remedies regarding anti-monopoly civil disputes, can be resolved through civil proceedings by individuals. Moreover, the jurisdiction for civil proceedings for such a dispute shall be limited to intermediate courts in provincial capital cities and courts designated by the Supreme Court. In other words, the enforcement of the AML relies on public institutions. (2) AML is a matter of a public policy, and historically, disputes arose from it are not arbitrable in many countries. (Although it has been loosened in recent years.) However, in China, due to the short implementation period of the AML, mature AML enforcement and judicial experience have not yet been accumulated; therefore, the public policy nature of AML is certainly an important factor for China to consider. At the present stage of China, there is no explicit legal provision on arbitration as alternative dispute resolution means for monopolistic disputes, and no arbitration practice for monopolistic disputes has been seen. (3) The dispute in this case does not only concern Songxu and Samsung, but also involves public interests. As the dispute involves the interests of a third party and consumers, it goes beyond the contractual agreement between the two parties, so the arbitration clause does not encompass the dispute in question and the case is not subject to arbitration.
To summarize, the main logic behind Jiangsu High Court's denial to the arbitrability of anti-monopoly civil dispute is the public policy nature of the AML. The decision over monopolistic dispute would have effects on a third party, and thus it shall be made by a public authority. Moreover, for a long time, most countries do not recognize the arbitrability of such dispute. But similar reasoning is overturned in the Mitsubishi Motors case in the United States which is stated below.
II. Practical Attitude of the United States and the European Union on the Arbitrability of Anti-monopoly Disputes
1968年，美国联邦第二巡回上诉法院审理的“American Safety案”确立了“美国安全原则（American Safety Doctrine）”：反托拉斯法项下的请求权究其本质而言，不宜通过仲裁方式解决。理由如下：（1）反托拉斯法包括了许多国家利益，违反反托拉斯法的行为会影响成千上万甚至上百万的人，会造成令人难以置信的经济破坏。国会也不希望通过非司法方式来解决此种争议；（2）反托拉斯案件通常很复杂，因而司法方式比仲裁方式更适合这类案件的解决；（3）在反托拉斯案件中，拥有讨价还价优势地位的一方很可能会迫使对方订立附属合同，使其不情愿地把可能产生的任何争议提交仲裁；（4）商事仲裁员通常来自商业社会，一般只具备衡平观念，因此，正如战争与和平问题不能交由平民百姓来决定一样，反托拉斯争议也不能让来自普通商业社会的仲裁员去解决，特别是不能交给对美国的法律和价值观念不甚了解的外国仲裁员去解决。但是，1986年美国联邦最高法院审理的“三菱汽车案”实质上地推翻了“美国安全原则”。针对美国联邦第二巡回上诉法院在“Safety案”中提出的否定反托拉斯争议可仲裁性的数项理由。联邦最高法院指出，不存在因公共政策上的原因而禁止将国际反托拉斯争议交付仲裁的情形，反托拉斯案件虽然复杂，但是并不意味着仲裁庭不能正确地处理反托拉斯争议，“我们不能纵容这样的假设，即当事人和仲裁机构不能也不愿意选择有能力的、尽责的和公正的仲裁员……我们的结论是，出于国际礼让的考虑，对外国和跨国仲裁庭能力的尊重，以及在国际体制中当事人对解决争议可预测性的迫切需要，都要求我们执行当事人的协议，即使在国内反托拉斯争议中可能出现相反的结果。”随后，1997年“Kotam Electronics案”又进一步确立美国国内的反托拉斯纠纷也可通过仲裁解决。
In 1968, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals established American Safety doctrine in the “American Safety Case”: Right of claims under antitrust laws are by their nature inapplicable to arbitrary dispute resolution. The reasons are as follow: (1) Antitrust laws cover many national interests. Violations of antitrust laws can affect tens of thousands or even millions of people’s lives and cause incredible economic losses. Congress also does not wish to resolve such disputes by nonjudicial means; (2) Antitrust cases are often so complex that judicial means are more appropriate than arbitration; (3) In antitrust cases, the party with bargaining advantages may force the other party to enter into ancillary contracts to submit related disputes to arbitration; (4) Most arbitrators only have commercial background with basic common sense. Therefore, just as "issues of war and peace are too important to be vested in the generals...... decisions as to antitrust regulation of business are too important to be lodged in arbitrators chosen from the business community —— particularly those from a foreign community that has had no experience with or exposure to our (U.S.) law and values". However, in 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Second Circuit in the American Safety case; see Mitsubishi v. Soler Chrysler-Plymouth, 473 U.S. 614 (1985). In response to the logic of denying the arbitrability of antitrust disputes in the American Safety case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that there was no such public interest which arbitrary dispute resolution was an inappropriate dispute settlement approach. The complexity of antitrust cases does not mean that the tribunal is incompetent to handle such disputes.
"We decline to indulge the presumption that the parties and arbitral body conducting a proceeding will be unable or unwilling to retain competent, conscientious, and impartial arbitrators.... we conclude that concerns of international comity, respect for the capacities of foreign and transnational tribunals, and sensitivity to the need of the international commercial system for predictability in the resolution of disputes require that we enforce the parties' agreement, even assuming that a contrary result would be forthcoming in a domestic context." See Mitsubishi v. Soler Chrysler-Plymouth, 473 U.S. 614 (1985)
In 1997, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit further ruled that American domestic antitrust dispute could be resolved through arbitration. See Kotam Electronics, Inc., v. Jbl Consumer Products, Inc., 93 F.3d 724 (11th Cir. 1996).
在欧盟，德国、瑞典、荷兰等国法律中明文规定涉及竞争、垄断的民事纠纷可以通过仲裁程序解决。1999年的 “Eco Swiss案”是欧盟法院首次对反垄断争议的仲裁性问题给出意见。在本案中，欧盟法院虽未直接针对垄断纠纷可否仲裁解决作出正面答复，支持成员国法院基于国内法对公共政策的考量撤销仲裁裁决，但从法律上欧盟法院认为成员国法院拥有对仲裁裁决的合法性进行实质性审查的权利，且当判定某一仲裁裁决违反公共政策时，成员国法院应撤销该仲裁裁决本身。在“Eco Swiss案”之后，反垄断民事纠纷的可仲裁性已基本得到欧盟各国的默认。
Competition civil disputes to be susceptible to resolution of arbitration is expressly provided in the laws of countries such as Germany, Sweden and Netherlands in the European Union. In 1999, the European Court commented on the arbitrational issue of antitrust disputes for the first time. See Eco Swiss v. Benetton International. In this case, the court of the European Union did not give a direct answer to the fore-mentioned issue, but supported national courts to annul arbitral awards based on public interest concerns. The court held that the courts of member countries retain the power to conduct a substantial review of the validity of arbitral awards, and that the courts of member countries should annul the arbitral awards when they determined that the arbitral award in question failed to observe national rules of public policy. After the Eco Swiss case, the arbitrability of antitrust civil disputes has been basically settled in the EU countries.
III Discussion on the Arbitrability of Civil Disputes over China's AML
The arbitrability of anti-monopoly disputes is a marginal issue in the anti-monopoly regime, nevertheless, it is a procedural issue that can not be ignored. Discussions persist on whether anti-monopoly disputes can be arbitrated in China, although a Chinese court has already given a negative answer. The controversy not only concerns whether antitrust disputes can be resolved through arbitration, but also contains, among others, the following questions: (1) is the lack of legal regulation an obstacle to arbitrary resolutions for antitrust civil disputes? (2) is public policy nature of the AML a substantive impediment to the arbitration dispute resolution for antitrust disputes? (3) should Chinese courts recognize arbitration awards regarding antitrust civil dispute produced in the U.S. or the EU? (4) if international antitrust disputes can be settled through arbitration, can domestic disputes be reviewed by arbitrators as well?
Firstly, Article 50 of the AML does not exclude the feasibility of arbitrary dispute resolution. Three articles including Article 2, Article 3 and Article 65 of the Arbitration Law define the scope of arbitrable matters. Specifically, Article 2 makes general and abstract provisions on disputes that can be arbitrated, Article 3 lists the scope of disputes that cannot be judicated by the arbitrary tribunal, and Article 65 is a supplement to Article 2. None of the foregoing negates the arbitrability of antitrust issues.
Secondly, although the AML is usually regarded as a public policy matter, civil disputes caused by monopolistic behavior are disputes between the two equal parties, and the issue of which is tort liability. The U.S. Supreme Court has stipulated that public policies on anti-monopoly shall not be grounds for prohibiting arbitration as alternative means of dispute settlement. In addition, there are a large number of monopolistic acts that may only harm limited business operators or consumers, and the inequality of economic power does not induce the inequality of legal subject status.
Thirdly, since the U.S., the EU and other countries and regions have recognized the arbitrability of anti-monopoly civil disputes, refusing to recognize and enforce such arbitration awards clearly violates the principle of international courtesy. According to the New York Convention which China joined in 1986, Chinese courts shall recognize and enforce the arbitration awards in disputes over "contractual and non-contractual commercial relations" in accordance with Chinese law. In the following year, the Chinese Supreme Court promulgated the Circular on Implementing the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards to which China is a Signatory and it defines "contractual and non-contractual commercial relations" as relations relate to contractual or tort obligations or to economic rights and obligations provided in relevant Chinese law. In this document, anti-monopoly dispute is not excluded from the scope of arbitral awards that can be recognized and enforced in China. On July 2, 2019, the Chinese delegation signed theConvention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Civil and Commercial Judgments at the closing ceremony of the 22nd session of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, stipulating that international civil and commercial judgments related to core cartel behaviors such as price fixing, bid rigging, exports or quotas restriction, and market allocation will be recognized and enforced in China in the future.
Lastly, the recognition of the arbitrability of anti-monopoly civil disputes is not a deviation from its nature of public policy. The professionalism of today's arbitration institutions, especially the arbitrators of some authoritative arbitration institutions, suffice to properly handle antitrust issues. And a Chinese court may still conduct a judicial review with substantial examinations and stricter standards over antitrust issues during the process of recognizing and enforcing arbitration awards.
In short, according to the existing legal provisions and the nature of the dispute, the reasoning for denying the arbitrability of anti-monopoly civil disputes are not sufficient, and do not conform with the current international trend. More importantly, antitrust law is one of the laws with the highest degree of globalization, and many antitrust disputes are international. Considering that China has signed the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of International Civil and Commercial Judgments which encompasses competition disputes, it is necessary to think more deeply about the arbitrability of anti-monopoly civil disputes.