Michael Laskey -
The Competition Bureau is contemplating a new pre-notification regime, similar to the regime that currently exists for mergers, whereby businesses will be permitted (or, potentially, obliged) to seek advance clearance from the Bureau before entering into agreements with their competitors. Speaking on a panel at an American Bar Association conference on March 27, Commissioner of Competition John Pecman noted that the plan is in its “early days”, and that the Bureau has not decided whether a regime should be implemented (and if so, whether it should be voluntary or mandatory), but that it is something the Bureau is considering. Such a regime could apply to a variety of types of “normal-course” agreements, such as joint purchasing and selling agreements, buying groups, information sharing agreements, R&D agreements, joint production agreements, non-competition clauses and even joint venture agreements.
The motivation for such a regime may stem from the Competition Act’s dual-track approach to competitor collaborations. In Canada, two provisions of the Act govern agreements among competitors. A criminal provision, intended to capture “naked” price fixing (as well as output restrictions and market allocation), carries significant fines and jail terms. A second, civil provision captures only agreements which adversely affect competition, and carries no such penalties. Although these provisions are intended to serve different purposes, it is up to the Bureau to decide which route it wishes to take when investigating (or prosecuting) any particular agreement. The Bureau has released a guidance document which outlines the types of situations in which it will choose to use the criminal and civil provisions, but this guidance is not binding. So, a pre-clearance regime may give businesses additional certainty in knowing that their joint purchasing agreement or non-compete clause will not be challenged (at least, under the criminal provision).