For years, there has been talk in China of enacting new antitrust laws, but each time enactment looks closer, it is put off. The current word is that 2006 will see such laws enacted.
The Wall Street Journal just ran a story (by subscription only) on those laws and on how they might be used against foreign companies. The article stated that foreign companies’ “most pressing concern is that the law could allow trumped-up antitrust charges to chip away at their profitable patents. That fear is based on the latest known draft of the law, which prohibits the abuse of intellectual-property rights but doesn’t describe how regulators should interpret such offenses.”
There is also a concern that new antitrust laws might be used to protect state-owned monopolies because a section from a prior draft forbidding the abuse of government power to restrict competition has been dropped.
I actually began my legal career as an antitrust lawyer at the Chicago mega-firm Kirkland & Ellis. Nonetheless, China’s proposed antitrust laws are in such a state of flux, so different from that which I am familiar, and so intricately tied in with so many governmental issues there, it is difficult to have much of an opinion. I searched the web for commentary on the latest version, but did not find anything good. I will intermittently keep checking and continue to report back.
At this point, I am of the view that it is simply too early for great concern, even for those who are already doing business in China in a big way. I am, however, particularly looking forward to see how any new antitrust laws handle the fact that the Chinese government itself owns so many of China’s largest companies.