M&A reviews to be given new fast-track procedure

Updated: 2011-12-28 09:01

By Ding Qingfen (China Daily)

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Transparency 'will be improved' amid growing number of deals

BEIJING - The assessment of merger and acquisition (M&A) proposals will be fast-tracked to facilitate an increase in deals next year, the Ministry of Commerce said.

Shang Ming, director of the ministry's anti-monopoly bureau, said the sluggish global economy had slowed down outright expansion by companies and pushed them to boost sales by M&As.

Plans by global companies to expand quickly in China have also contributed to the increasing number of M&A cases, Shang said.

"M&A cases have increased at a rapid pace this year so we are studying how to improve our methods and work efficiency next year to shorten procedures," Shang said at a media briefing.

"China will also try to amend relevant articles of the law" to improve transparency and fairness, he said.

The ministry had received 194 applications for M&As between January and mid-December, up 43 percent from a year earlier, he said. Nearly two-thirds of the cases are in manufacturing.

The ministry had finished vetting 160 cases, with 94 percent approved, Shang said. The number of finished cases surged by 40 percent from a year earlier and doubled from 2009.

No discrimination

Shang also rejected criticism that China used its anti-monopoly legislation to unfairly block the expansion of foreign and private firms.

"Chinese antitrust law treats all firms equally and fairly, no matter who they are, State-owned enterprises, private companies or foreign firms," he told reporters.

Shang made the remarks in response to overseas claims that China has taken advantage of the anti-monopoly law, which came into force in 2008, to protect its own industries by either turning down proposed M&A cases or approving the cases with conditions attached.

One example often cited by critics was the ministry's rejection of Coca-Cola's proposed acquisition of China's top domestic juice maker Huiyuan for $2.5 billion in 2008.

But Shang denied that China was partial to any specific side in handling the cases and said that the number of rejected and conditioned cases account for a small part of all cases.

Since 2008, there was only one M&A case, the Coca-Cola deal, that was rejected, while 10 cases, or less than 4 percent of all M&A cases handled by the ministry were approved with additional clauses attached, Shang said.

"There is not any indication that China has treated cases and enterprises with discrimination," said Wu Hanhong, director of the Research Center of Industrial Economy and Competition Policy at the Renmin University of China.

"Additional articles are common in international practice."

Countries and regions, including the United States and the European Union, have also imposed conditions on international companies in M&As, including General Electric.

From January to mid-December, about 94 percent of M&A cases handled by the ministry were approved with no conditions, according to the statement released by the ministry on Tuesday.

And they include the world's largest food producer Nestle SA's $2.07 billion purchase of a 60 percent stake of the Chinese snack and candy maker Hsu Fu Chi International Ltd in July. Only four cases were approved with additional clauses during the same period.

There are signs that the government has been trying to improve the supervision and management of M&A deals. In July, US and Chinese antitrust agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding to help enhance their cooperation.

Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, one of two US antitrust regulators, was quoted as saying that "what we've seen so far from the Chinese antitrust agencies is very promising".

Reuters contributed to this story.