China (PRC)

In the previous issue, we compared illegal per se and the rule of reason, and pointed out that cases where illegal per se applies turn out to be favourable to the enforcement agencies and the plaintiff in an anti-trust litigation. Judged from the regulations on the burden of evidence in applicable judicial interpretation, it seems that the rule of reason will apply when determining the legality of a vertical agreement (mainly resale price maintenance under the AML), because the draft provisions of the Supreme Court once provided that the victim of vertical and horizontal agreements need not prove that such agreement restricts or eliminates competition. But such content of vertical agreement was eventually deleted. The change indicates that the Supreme Court sees vertical agreement different from horizontal agreement in that the former’s existence is not self-incriminating.

We should notice that one clause directly related to the above judicial interpretation is the definition of monopolistic agreement in the AML. Article 13 and Article 14 of the AML prohibit companies from reaching “the following monopolistic agreement” rather than reaching “the following agreement” with other competing companies (horizontal agreement) or trading parties (vertical agreement). Huge difference lies in the wording. Paragraph 2 of Article 13 of the AML defines “monopolistic agreement” as “agreement, decision or other concerted activities that eliminate or restrict competition”. In the famous Rainbow Medical v. Johnson & Johnson case, Shanghai High Court required the plaintiff Rainbow Medical (distributor of Johnson & Johnson) to prove that the distribution agreement which restricted resale price signed with Johnson & Johnson had eliminated or restricted competition in the relevant market pursuant to the definition and judicial interpretation discussed above, and then reviewed the agreement in question from four perspectives, i.e., whether the competition in the relevant market is sufficient, whether the implementing company possesses powerful market position in the relevant market, whether the implementing company possessed the intent to restrict competition, and the impact of the monopolistic conduct on the competition. This is an obvious application of the rule of reason.

Following the above logic, horizontal agreement should certainly be reviewed from the above four perspectives as well. Apparently this is inconsistent with the theories and practice of the antitrust law. Horizontal agreements (mainly refers to price control, output restriction, market division, and bid rigging here), also called hard core cartels, are always the target of strict scrutiny in any major antirust jurisdiction, and are almost without exception judged by illegal per se (in some countries where illegal per se does not exist, there would be a similar concept). It is so difficult to even imagine that a typical monopolistic agreement like price cartel between competitors cannot be confirmed as an antitrust violation until being analyzed from different perspectives such as whether the competition in the relevant market is sufficient. Furthermore, it is totally unnecessary to provide a safe harbor clause when the plaintiff has to first assume the burden of evidence and the corresponding risk of failure to produce evidence. When the court analyzes the plaintiff’s evidence by applying the rule of reason, it will review those legitimate causes, whether described in the safe harbor clause or not. There is relatively little difference between listing such causes as safe harbor and not listing them. Only when a defendant is put in an unfavorable position of being assumed to have implemented monopolistic conduct, a remedy to defeat such assumption is necessary. Therefore, the legislators have provided horizontal and vertical agreements with the same remedy, and set the same conditions to apply such remedy, which implicates that the legislators treat the two with equal importance. Taking all these contradictory clues into consideration, the discussion of vertical agreement and the rule of reason will continue to drag on.

纵向协议:本身违法,还是合理原则?(下)

在上一期,我们对本身违法原则和合理原则进行了比较,指出适用本身违法原则的案件对执法机关以及反垄断诉讼中的原告更为有利。从有关司法解释对举证责任的规定看,判断纵向协议(在《反垄断法》下主要指转售价格限制)的合法性似乎应当适用合理原则,因为最高法院在《关于审理因垄断行为引发的民事纠纷案件应用法律若干问题的规定》的草案中曾经规定纵向协议和横向协议的受害人均无需对协议具有排除、限制竞争的效果举证证明。但最终,上述纵向协议的部分被删除。这一变化表明最高法院认为纵向协议与横向协议不同,其存在本身不足以自证其违法性。

必须注意到,与上述司法解释直接相关的一条规定是《反垄断法》对“垄断协议”的定义。《反垄断法》第十三条、第十四条分别禁止经营者与其他具有竞争关系的经营者(即横向协议)或交易相对人(即纵向协议)达成“下列垄断协议”,而没有禁止它们达成“下列协议”。这其中差别巨大。《反垄断法》第十三条第二款规定将“垄断协议”定义为“排除、限制竞争的协议、决定或者其他协同行为”。在著名的锐邦涌和诉强生一案中,上海高院即根据该定义与司法解释要求原告锐邦涌和(强生的经销商)证明强生与其签署的限制转售价格的经销合同在相关市场中具有排除、限制竞争的效果,并且从相关市场竞争是否充分、实施企业在相关市场是否具有很强的市场地位、实施企业是否具有限制竞争的行为动机、垄断行为的竞争效果等四个方面对涉案协议进行考察。这显然是合理原则的应用,尽管听上去并不合理——上海高院要求原告从四个方面举证证明限制转售价格的纵向协议具有“排除、限制竞争”的效果,而这四个方面并非《反垄断法》的明文规定,也不属于避风港规则下的情形。因此,上海高院实质上超越其法定权限,对《反垄断法》第十四条的适用条件进行了限缩解释。

根据上述逻辑,既然《反垄断法》第十三条同样禁止竞争者之间达成横向“垄断协议”(而非简单的横向“协议”),那么对于横向协议是否构成“垄断协议”并违反《反垄断法》,自然也应当从上述四个方面进行考察。这显然与反垄断法的理论与实践不符。横向协议(这里主要指价格控制、产量限制、市场划分、串通投标)在任何主要反垄断法域都属于严格规制的对象,又称为核心卡特尔,几乎无一例外地适用本身违法原则进行判断(部分国家没有本身违法原则,但一般也存在与之相类似的概念)。很难想象对于竞争者之间达成价格同盟这样的典型横向垄断协议,居然还要从相关市场竞争是否充分、实施企业的市场地位是否强大等方面再考察一番才能确定该行为是否违反《反垄断法》。假设一个本地行业协会下的企业为了操纵产品价格而达成了价格联盟(例如上海黄金横向协议案),难道要因为这些企业市场地位不强大或者相关市场竞争很充分而认定它们之间的横向协议不违反《反垄断法》吗?

此外,若原告必须首先承担举证责任及相应的举证不利风险,则完全没有必要规定避风港条款。因为当法院适用合理原则分析原告的证据时,必然会考察避风港条款所述或未述的正当理由,这些理由是否专门列为避风港区别不大。除非被告面临被推定为实施垄断行为的不利地位,此时能够打破此等推定的救济方为必要。因此,从《反垄断法》行文看,立法者为横向协议与纵向协议提供了相同的救济途径,且适用的条件完全相同,表明立法者将二者置于同等重要的地位。而且事实上,执法机构在对垄断协议进行查处时并不遵循上海高院的思路。考虑到这些互相矛盾的线索,对纵向垄断与合理原则的讨论仍将长期存在。

Martin Hu & Partners
8F, Kerry Parkside Office
1155 Fang Dian Road
Shanghai 201204
P. R. China
Tel: (86) 21 50101666
Fax: (86) 21 50101222
Email: blake.yang@mhplawyer.com
info@mhplawyer.com
www.mhplawyer.com

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