Wraps appear to come off China’s new super-regulator as suspected official document pops up online

14 August 2018 1:43pm

10 August 2018. By MLex Staff.

Detailed personnel assignments and division structures at China's four-month-old antitrust agency have become the subjects of fevered speculation within the country's antitrust community, following a major leak of an apparently copied document late last night that seemed to outline bureau-level arrangements at the State Administration for Market Regulation.

The document, which was distributed via social media, appears to be the closest thing yet to official confirmation of the institutional configuration of the State Administration for Market Regulation since rumors about its structure began spreading among lawyers and legal scholars months ago.

Legal sources told MLex that the official silence since the leak of the document may signal that the plan is the final version of SAMR's internal arrangements, signed off on by the State Commission Office for Public Sector Reform. Others, however, remained skeptical.

According to the document, SAMR’s competition supervision function will be carried out primarily by two bureaux: one dealing with antitrust issues, including merger control, investigations and fair competition reviews; and the other leading efforts on price supervision and anti-unfair competition initiatives. That split broadly reflects expectations expressed unofficially among China's antitrust fraternity.

The document also says SAMR will have a third bureau, focused on inspections and enforcement and responsible for nationwide and cross-province cases suspected of involving legal violations.

However, legal sources said antitrust investigations were expected to be handled mainly by SAMR's dedicated antitrust bureau, and that the enforcement bureau would cooperate with its probes. They said the enforcement bureau's mandate would be much more wide-ranging than simply antitrust, and that it would include broader market supervision issues such as the quality and safety of goods and services.

Although the document is regarded as credible by multiple legal practitioners, lawyers and others remain curious about when and how SAMR or the State Council will officially announce the agency's ultimate structure.

As SAMR's overall structure becomes increasingly clear, attention has turned to the finer details of its internal arrangements. It is still unclear how many divisions its antitrust bureau will have, and what those individual divisions will be responsible for. It is also a matter of speculation as to who will lead the agency's three bureaux and the divisions within their purview, although rumors about who will land the top job have proliferated.

As MLex reported earlier, Wu Zhenguo, who has served as director general of the Anti-Monopoly Bureau at the Ministry of Commerce since 2016, has been tipped as a leading candidate to head up the consolidated antitrust agency.

Wu made the closing remarks at last week’s 7th China Competition Policy Forum, organized by the Expert Advisory Group at the State Council's Anti-Monopoly Commission.

Until the formation of SAMR, China's two other top antitrust officials were Zhang Handong, director general of the NDRC’s Price Supervision and Antimonopoly Bureau since 2015, and Yang Hongcan, director general of the Anti-Monopoly and Anti-Unfair Competition Enforcement Bureau at the State Administration for Industry and Commerce since last August.

Legal sources said that however the chips fell, the leadership, structure and workings of the new agency would become clear sooner rather than later, following last night's disclosure.

Joh Sung-Wook Interview