Advisory Board

  • Cai Hongbin
  • Peking University Guanghua School of Management
  • Peter Clarke
  • Barry Diller
  • IAC/InterActiveCorp
  • Fu Chengyu
  • China National Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec Group)
  • Richard J. Gnodde
  • Goldman Sachs International
  • Lodewijk Hijmans van den Bergh
  • De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek N.V.
  • Jiang Jianqing
  • Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Ltd. (ICBC)
  • Handel Lee
  • King & Wood Mallesons
  • Richard Li
  • PCCW Limited
  • Pacific Century Group
  • Liew Mun Leong
  • Changi Airport Group
  • Martin Lipton
  • New York University
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  • Liu Mingkang
  • China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC)
  • Dinesh C. Paliwal
  • Harman International Industries
  • Leon Pasternak
  • BCC Partners
  • Tim Payne
  • Brunswick Group
  • Joseph R. Perella
  • Perella Weinberg Partners
  • Baron David de Rothschild
  • N M Rothschild & Sons Limited
  • Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara
  • Temasek International Pte. Ltd.
  • Shao Ning
  • State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council of China (SASAC)
  • John W. Snow
  • Cerberus Capital Management, L.P.
  • Former U.S. Secretary of Treasury
  • Bharat Vasani
  • Tata Group
  • Wang Junfeng
  • King & Wood Mallesons
  • Wang Kejin
  • China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC)
  • Wei Jiafu
  • Kazakhstan Potash Corporation Limited
  • Yang Chao
  • China Life Insurance Co. Ltd.
  • Zhu Min
  • International Monetary Fund

Legal Roundtable

  • Dimitry Afanasiev
  • Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev and Partners (Moscow)
  • William T. Allen
  • NYU Stern School of Business
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (New York)
  • Johan Aalto
  • Hannes Snellman Attorneys Ltd (Finland)
  • Nigel P. G. Boardman
  • Slaughter and May (London)
  • Willem J.L. Calkoen
  • NautaDutilh N.V. (Rotterdam)
  • Peter Callens
  • Loyens & Loeff (Brussels)
  • Bertrand Cardi
  • Darrois Villey Maillot & Brochier (Paris)
  • Santiago Carregal
  • Marval, O’Farrell & Mairal (Buenos Aires)
  • Martín Carrizosa
  • Philippi Prietocarrizosa & Uría (Bogotá)
  • Carlos G. Cordero G.
  • Aleman, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Panama)
  • Ewen Crouch
  • Allens (Sydney)
  • Adam O. Emmerich
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (New York)
  • Rachel Eng
  • WongPartnership (Singapore)
  • Sergio Erede
  • BonelliErede (Milan)
  • Kenichi Fujinawa
  • Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu (Tokyo)
  • Manuel Galicia Romero
  • Galicia Abogados (Mexico City)
  • Danny Gilbert
  • Gilbert + Tobin (Sydney)
  • Vladimíra Glatzová
  • Glatzová & Co. (Prague)
  • Juan Miguel Goenechea
  • Uría Menéndez (Madrid)
  • Andrey A. Goltsblat
  • Goltsblat BLP (Moscow)
  • Juan Francisco Gutiérrez I.
  • Philippi Prietocarrizosa & Uría (Santiago)
  • Fang He
  • Jun He Law Offices (Beijing)
  • Christian Herbst
  • Schönherr (Vienna)
  • Lodewijk Hijmans van den Bergh
  • De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek N.V. (Amsterdam)
  • Hein Hooghoudt
  • NautaDutilh N.V. (Amsterdam)
  • Sameer Huda
  • Hadef & Partners (Dubai)
  • Masakazu Iwakura
  • TMI Associates (Tokyo)
  • Christof Jäckle
  • Hengeler Mueller (Frankfurt)
  • Michael Mervyn Katz
  • Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs (Johannesburg)
  • Handel Lee
  • King & Wood Mallesons (Beijing)
  • Martin Lipton
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (New York)
  • Alain Maillot
  • Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier (Paris)
  • Antônio Corrêa Meyer
  • Machado, Meyer, Sendacz e Opice (São Paulo)
  • Sergio Michelsen Jaramillo
  • Brigard & Urrutia (Bogotá)
  • Zia Mody
  • AZB & Partners (Mumbai)
  • Christopher Murray
  • Osler (Toronto)
  • Francisco Antunes Maciel Müssnich
  • Barbosa, Müssnich & Aragão (Rio de Janeiro)
  • I. Berl Nadler
  • Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP (Toronto)
  • Umberto Nicodano
  • BonelliErede (Milan)
  • Brian O'Gorman
  • Arthur Cox (Dublin)
  • Robin Panovka
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (New York)
  • Sang-Yeol Park
  • Park & Partners (Seoul)
  • José Antonio Payet Puccio
  • Payet Rey Cauvi (Lima)
  • Kees Peijster
  • COFRA Holding AG (Zug)
  • Juan Martín Perrotto
  • Uría & Menéndez (Madrid/Beijing)
  • Philip Podzebenko
  • Herbert Smith Freehills (Sydney)
  • Geert Potjewijd
  • De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek (Amsterdam/Beijing)
  • Qi Adam Li
  • Jun He Law Offices (Shanghai)
  • Biörn Riese
  • Jurie Advokat AB (Sweden)
  • Mark Rigotti
  • Herbert Smith Freehills (Sydney)
  • Rafael Robles Miaja
  • Robles Miaja (Mexico City)
  • Alberto Saravalle
  • BonelliErede (Milan)
  • Maximilian Schiessl
  • Hengeler Mueller (Düsseldorf)
  • Cyril S. Shroff
  • Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (Mumbai)
  • Shardul S. Shroff
  • Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co.(New Delhi)
  • Klaus Søgaard
  • Gorrissen Federspiel (Denmark)
  • Ezekiel Solomon
  • Allens (Sydney)
  • Emanuel P. Strehle
  • Hengeler Mueller (Munich)
  • David E. Tadmor
  • Tadmor & Co. (Tel Aviv)
  • Kevin J. Thomson
  • Barrick Gold Corporation (Toronto)
  • Yu Wakae
  • Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu (Tokyo)
  • Wang Junfeng
  • King & Wood Mallesons (Beijing)
  • Tomasz Wardynski
  • Wardynski & Partners (Warsaw)
  • Xiao Wei
  • Jun He Law Offices (Beijing)
  • Xu Ping
  • King & Wood Mallesons (Beijing)
  • Shuji Yanase
  • OK Corporation (Tokyo)
  • Alvin Yeo
  • WongPartnership LLP (Singapore)

Founding Directors

  • William T. Allen
  • NYU Stern School of Business
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  • Nigel P.G. Boardman
  • Slaughter and May
  • Cai Hongbin
  • Peking University Guanghua School of Management
  • Adam O. Emmerich
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  • Robin Panovka
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  • Peter Williamson
  • Cambridge Judge Business School
  • Franny Yao
  • Ernst & Young

Legal Regimes

CHINA UPDATE – China is Taking Solid Steps to Open its Banking Sector

Editors’ Note: Chen Yun is a partner specializing in banking, finance and foreign exchange law. Wang Rong and Liang Yixuan also contributed to this article.

After the promulgation of the State Council’s Decision on Amending the Regulations of the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”) on the Administration of Foreign Funded  Banks (Consultation Paper) (the “Administrative Regulations Consultation Paper”) in late October 2018, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (“CBIRC”) released the Decision on Amending the Implementation Rules of the Regulations of the PRC on the Administration of Foreign Funded Banks (Consultation Paper) (the “Implementation Rules Consultation Paper”, together with the Administrative Regulations Consultation Paper, the “Consultation Papers”) on 28 November 2018 to solicit public opinions.

The main purposes of amending these two legislations, which are of ultimate importance to the supervision of foreign funded banks (“FF Banks”) are to put into practice the country’s opening-up policies in the banking sector, to make law to implement the opening-up measures in the banking sector, which have been repeatedly referred to by senior government officials in various summits and public speeches, and to further liberalize the foreign investment in China’s banking sector.

The amendments made by the Consultation Papers focus on the following aspects:

  • Allowing foreign banks to maintain PRC branches (“FB Branches”) and locally incorporated banks in China (“FB LIBs”) at the same time
  • Lifting the restrictions on the conducting of the RMB business by FB Branches and FB LIBs
  • Broadening the business scope of FB Branches and FB LIBs
  • Relaxing the operating funds requirements for FB Branches

Ⅰ. Institutions Subject to the Regulation of the Consultation Papers

As early as 17 August 2018, CBIRC abolished the Administrative Measures on Equity Investment by Foreign Funded Financial Institutions in Chinese Funded Financial Institutions, and removed the 25% ceiling of foreign shareholding in a Chinese funded commercial bank by amending the Implementation Measures of the Administrative Licensing Items for Chinese Funded Commercial Banks.  It is also stipulated that a commercial bank will be regulated as the category of the bank as the one when and into which the foreign investment is made.

Therefore, foreign banks may set up from scratch joint-venture FB LIBs (“JV Banks”) or wholly foreign owned FB LIBs (“WFOBs”) regulated as FF Banks, or may otherwise become, by way of making investments into Chinese funded commercial banks, the shareholders of joint-venture banks with more than 25% foreign ownership or wholly foreign owned banks, which are converted from and regulated as Chinese funded commercial banks.

Notwithstanding the above, the institutions subject to the regulation of the Consultation Papers remain those regulated as FF Banks, namely WFOBs, JV Banks, FB Branches and PRC representative offices of foreign banks. As far as joint-venture banks or wholly foreign owned banks converted from and regulated as Chinese funded commercial banks as the result of the investment by foreign banks are concerned, the Consultation Papers do not apply.

Ⅱ. Allowing Foreign Banks to Maintain FB Branches and FB LIBs at the Same Time

One of the most appealing changes made by the Consultation Papers is that foreign banks would be allowed to maintain both FB LIBs (i.e. WFOBs and JV Banks regulated as FF Banks) and FB Branches) at the same time. As a result, foreign banks would no longer be forced to make a hard choice between local incorporation and keeping FB Branches.

Back in late 2006, when converting their FB Branches into WFOBs, foreign banks were allowed to retain an FB Branch to carry on their foreign exchange (“FX”) wholesale business for a certain period of time (i.e. a transition period), in order to facilitate the to-be-established WFOBs to meet the relevant regulatory indicators requirements and to facilitate the retained branch to phase out the outstanding FX wholesale business, only that such retained branch shall be closed upon the expiry of the transition period.

However, in the Implementation Rules of the Regulations of the PRC on the Administration of Foreign Funded Banks which was promulgated on 1 July 2015 and took effect on 1September of the same year, the relevant provisions on the retention of an FX wholesale business branch upon local incorporation of foreign banks were deleted, thus made such approach no longer workable.  In practice, CBIRC (then the China Banking Regulatory Commission) also rejected the application from any foreign bank for retaining an FX wholesale business branch when converting its FB Branches into a WFOB.

This policy change directly led to the delay in the local incorporation process of some foreign banks since, without the FX wholesale business branch retained, their to-be-established WFOBs may not meet the specific regulatory indicators requirements.

Now, the change made by the Consultation Papers allowing foreign banks to maintain both FB LIBs and FB Branches (although the Consultation Papers require that in such circumstances, the FB Branches would only be allowed to conduct the wholesale business, with a substantial breakthrough being that such wholesale business covers not only FX business but also RMB business) at the same time would make it easier for foreign banks to enter into the China market.

It is worth mentioning that the Consultation Papers also set out prohibitions or restrictions on the independence and the risk isolation mechanism of the management, personnel, business, information and related party transactions of FB LIBs and FB Branches.

Ⅲ. Lifting the Restrictions on the Conducting of the RMB Business

With regard to the RMB business, the following material changes are made by the Consultation Papers:

  • The “waiting period” (i.e. a period of time for which an FB LIB or an FB Branch shall open business before applying for conducting the RMB business) for the RMB business of FB LIBs and FB Branches is cancelled;
  • The minimum amount required for FB Branches to accept the fixed term deposit from Chinese citizens is lowered from RMB 1 million to RMB 0.5 million;
  • FB LIBs or FB Branches are allowed to conduct the preparatory work for the RMB business simultaneously with that for setting up FB LIBs or FB Branches, and to submit the application for the opening of the RMB business simultaneously with that for the business opening of FB LIBs and FB Branches. Thus, the RMB business may be opened Day One when FB LIBs and FB Branches open their businesses; and
  • In the case of multiple FB Branches, the managing FB Branch may authorize other FB Branches to conduct the RMB business as long as the managing FB Branch itself has obtained the RMB business license.

Ⅳ. Broadening the Business Scope

The Administrative Regulations Consultation Paper includes “acting as the issuance agent, payment agent and/or underwriter of Chinese government bonds” into the business scope of FB LIBs and FB Branches. Thus, the business scope of an FB LIB is substantially the same as that of a Chinese funded commercial bank.

In addition, the Implementation Measures Consultation Paper restates that the following types of business of FB LIBs and FB Branches are subject to the afterwards reporting requirement only, which was provided in the Circular on the Conducting of Certain Businesses by Foreign Funded Banks (the “Circular”) issued by the General Office of CBIRC on March 10, 2017 and now documented into a regulation by CBIRC: (1) acting as the issuance agent, payment agent and underwriter of Chinese government bonds; (2) providing custody, escrow and guardianship services; (3) providing consultancy services such as financial advisory services; (4) providing overseas wealth management services for and on behalf of the clients; and (5) such other businesses as CBIRC may deem to be subject to the afterwards reporting requirement.

Furthermore, the Implementation Measures Consultation Paper restates the regulations of the Circular allowing the intra-group cooperation (namely, allowing FB LIBs and FB Branches to cooperate with their parent bank groups to provide comprehensive financial services to Chinese enterprises in offshore bond issuance, listing, acquisition, financing and the like by taking the advantages of their global service networks.

Ⅴ. Relaxing the Operating Funds Requirements for FB Branches

In respect of the operating funds requirements of FB Branches, the Consultation Papers have made the following adjustments as well:

Ⅵ. Other Changes and Our Observations

Apart from the above significant changes, the Consultation Papers also make certain changes in the areas such as the outsourcing activities conducted by FB LIBs and FB Braches and their termination and liquidation.

Although the Consultation Papers are subject to the solicitation of public opinions before finalization, one can be assured that China is on the track of more opening-ups in its banking sector.

With abundant experience of assisting foreign funded financial institutions in setting up their PRC presences, carrying on their business in compliance with the law, exploring new business boundaries and seeking business cooperation, King & Wood Mallesons is right here standing by to hold your hands crossing the jungle!

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and have not been endorsed, confirmed, or approved by XBMA or any of the editors of XBMA Forum, nor by XBMA’s founders, members, contributors, academic partners, advisory board members, or others. No inference to the contrary should be drawn.

ISRAELI UPDATE – Israel’s Anti-Concentration Law: An Opportunity for New Players

Contributed By: Shirin Herzog, Ron Gazit, Rotenberg & Co.

Editors’ Note: Contributed by Shirin Herzog, head of the Mergers and Acquisitions, Securities and International Transactions Department in the Israeli firm of Ron Gazit, Rotenberg & Co. Ms. Herzog handles a variety of Israeli and cross-border merger and acquisition transactions, for public and private companies, and private equity transactions. This post is based on a recent blog post by Ms. Herzog first published in The Times of Israel on November 30, 2017.

As we conclude the contested law’s first phase, its widespread impact is felt on the Israeli market

Known from ancient times as a land of milk and honey, nowadays the nation of Israel is also a nation of opportunity. The law commonly referred to in Israel as the “Concentration Law,” requires investors deemed to be overly concentrated in the Israeli market to sell or take other actions regarding prime assets. By the same token, these investors may also be restricted from acquiring further Israeli assets. While some existing players in the Israeli market (mostly Israelis) may be harmed by the law, it has created significant opportunity for new players.

In the four years since the law was enacted, we have witnessed a considerable number of transactions driven by its requirements.

The law set up a few milestones, the first is December 10, 2017, by which Israeli conglomerates having multiple layers of publicly-traded subsidiaries (legally existing structures, also known as “pyramids”) must be flattened to a maximum of three layers of public companies; by way of sale, going private, redemption of public debt, merger, etc.

The last conglomerate to comply with this requirement was the IDB Group. On November 22, 2017, just days before the deadline, IDB Development sold its controlling interests (71%) of Discount Investments to a private company held by Eduardo Elsztain, who is also the controlling shareholder of the IDB Group. Accordingly, Discount Investments remained a publicly-traded company, but became a sister company of IDB Development, instead of its subsidiary – removing one public layer at the pyramid’s top.

Those who closely follow the Israeli financial media surely know there’s nothing like IDB to kindle populist debate and criticism of politicians and journalists alike. This deal was no exception. Many argued that the deal’s structure and financing breached the Concentration Law’s letter and spirit, and some even called for legislation of deal-blocking regulations. I have a different take on this situation. A thorough analysis of the Concentration Law (formally, The Law for Promotion of Competition and Reduction of Concentration of 2013), together with its explanatory notes, leads me to conclude that the deal breaches neither the law nor its spirit. The specifics of the analysis deviate from the scope of this piece, but in a nutshell, the provisions relating to pyramid-flattening cover only the number of public layers and they do not restrict transactions within a conglomerate that meet this number of layers criterion. Unlike the other components of the law described below, neither separation of assets held nor concentration considerations apply. Moreover, any legislation restricting the manner of doing business should be interpreted narrowly and should not apply retroactively.

The Concentration Law has already significantly succeeded in reducing the number of layers in many Israeli public-companies’ pyramids. According to a study conducted by the Israel Securities Authority, as of September 2017, only 13 companies kept the third to fifth layers of pyramids, compared to 67 such companies upon commencement of the preparatory process of the Concentration Law’s legislation in 2010. The IDB Group, a perceived catalysator of the law, had seven such companies in September 2017, compared to 27 in 2010. The recent IDB deal reduced a layer at the top of the pyramid, turning four “third-layer companies” into “second-layer companies,” no longer restricted by the Concentration Law. Thereafter, IDB still has three companies in the pyramid’s third layer.

The second milestone under the law is only two years away. By December 10, 2019, pyramid structures should be further flattened to no more than two layers of public companies. By that deadline, another component of the Concentration Law also becomes effective. It relates to separation of cross-holdings of mega Israeli financial companies (generally, companies managing assets exceeding NIS 40 billion; US $11.4 billion) and mega Israeli “real” (namely, non-financial) companies (generally, companies having revenue or debt in Israel exceeding NIS 6 billion; US $1.7 billion).

Two years may seem like a long time, but it is not. Considering the market conditions, the harsh sanctions on a breach (forced sale by a trustee) and the precedents in recent years, especially in the regulated insurance space, selling such assets could take a long time – and no seller wants to resort to a forced sale at the last moment. Much like a game of musical-chairs, no one wants to remain standing when the music stops.

Indeed, we are already seeing many transactions and separation actions in the market. The Delek Group (concentrating on gas, oil and real estate) has attempted to sell its Phoenix Insurance Company several times, as did the IDB Group with its Clal Insurance Company. Alas, the potential buyers did not stand up to the regulator’s standards. Apax Partners sold Tnuva Dairies in a well-orchestrated deal in 2015, ahead of the curve. In another case, Bino Group, the controlling party of both The First International Bank of Israel and Paz Oil Company, was bound by the Concentration Law to choose between these two prime assets, and opted to decrease its holdings in the latter company.

In parallel, seeds of the third component of the Concentration Law are starting to bud. Under that component, overall-market concentration and sectoral competitiveness considerations must be taken into account when government rights or assets, such as telecommunication licenses or exploration concessions, are allocated. A pioneering example was the restriction of The Israel Corporation from entering the emerging field of oil-shale exploration.

The Concentration Law is unprecedented both in its widespread effect over the Israeli economy and in the aggressive remedies it applies to increase competition in the allegedly-concentrated market. The law does not include “grandfather clauses” exempting existing structures and holdings, resulting in Israeli investors being forced to sell or take other actions regarding prime assets within a limited time. All the while, these Israeli investors may also be prohibited from acquiring further Israeli assets, consequently shifting investments and debt out of Israel.

The good news is these restrictions on current players in the Israeli market create opportunities for new players. From the perspective of non-Israeli investors, the Concentration Law constitutes a regulatory springboard, giving them an advantage over existing concentrated players. Opportunity is certainly ripe for newcomers to the Israeli market.

The above does not constitute legal opinion or an investment recommendation.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and have not been endorsed, confirmed, or approved by XBMA or any of the editors of XBMA Forum, nor by XBMA’s founders, members, contributors, academic partners, advisory board members, or others. No inference to the contrary should be drawn.

UK UPDATE – UK Government consults on new powers to control foreign investment

Editors’ Note: Contributed by Nigel Boardman, a partner at Slaughter and May and a founding director of XBMA.  Mr. Boardman is one of the leading M&A lawyers in the UK with broad experience in a wide range of cross-border transactions. The article was co-authored by Lisa Wright, partner, and Ying-Peng Chin, associate, at Slaughter and May (London).  

The UK Government recently published its long awaited green paper on control of foreign investment (the Green Paper).1 It proposes measures to increase Government scrutiny of foreign investment but only in relation to national security and not on the broader political grounds previous public statements have hinted at. Specifically, the Green Paper sets out two proposals: (1) urgent changes to the existing system to allow the Government to intervene in more mergers in the military, dual-use and parts of the advanced technology sectors; and (2) options for more extensive and long-term reform of the existing system. Recognising the importance of foreign investment to the UK – particularly given the UK’s impending departure from the EU – the Green Paper has as one of its central aims the need to ensure that the UK remains attractive to inward investment.

This briefing considers the rationale for increased scrutiny of foreign investment, why and how the Government proposes to reform the existing regime and how the Government is seeking to ensure that it does not deter foreign investment at this critical time for the UK.

Rationale for increased Government scrutiny of foreign investment

Expansion of the Government’s ability to review mergers on non-competition grounds has been mooted since at least 2016 when Theresa May described her desire to develop an industrial strategy that would enable the Government to defend domestic firms against foreign takeover: referring to Pfizer’s aborted takeover of AstraZeneca she said, “A proper industrial strategy wouldn’t automatically stop the sale of British firms to foreign ones, but it should be capable of stepping in to defend a sector that is as important as pharmaceuticals is to Britain”. In doing so, she suggested that the UK might develop a more politically interventionist approach to merger control. Although the industrial strategy green paper published in January 2017 made no such proposals, comments made by the Prime Minister just prior to publication of that green paper suggested that the issue was still on the agenda. There were, however, signs that the focus had shifted from a broad approach to intervention to a focus on national security and particular sectors (“[The Government] will be looking at how we develop ideas I’ve already talked about on national security and critical national infrastructure” (emphasis added)).

This narrower approach is reflected in the Green Paper with the Government stressing that the reforms are designed to increase its ability to scrutinise foreign investment for reasons only of national security (“All reforms that the Government makes in this area will only be the necessary and proportionate steps to protect national security”), albeit that the proposals are not limited to critical national infrastructure. Indeed the Green Paper appears implicitly to criticize the recently published EU proposals for screening foreign investments (the Proposed EC Regulations) for having protectionist motivations.2 This is in addition to the Government’s more explicit denouncement of the Proposed EC Regulations for placing “additional burden and uncertainty on prospective investors, which is at odds with the UK’s stance as an open and liberal investment destination” in an Explanatory Memorandum published on 5 October 2017.

Existing foreign investment regime

The Government can call in foreign investment for review on grounds of national security where: (1) the transaction qualifies for merger control review under the EU Merger Regulation or the UK merger control regime; or (2) where the transaction does not qualify for merger control review under either of the EU or UK regimes but involves a “relevant government contractor” (current and former government contractors holding confidential information relating to defence). Where concerns arise the Government can seek remedies and ultimately can block the transaction.

So why does the Government believe it needs to expand these existing powers and how does it propose to do so?3

Proposal 1: Urgent changes in relation to the military, dual-use and advanced technology sectors

The Government believes the existing regime leaves an enforcement gap in so far as transactions which do not qualify for EU or UK merger control review and do not involve a “relevant government contractor” cannot be called in for review on national security grounds. The Green Paper identifies a particular concern in relation to acquisitions of small UK businesses with products, IP and expertise in key parts of the military and dual-use and advanced technology sectors which it says pose “clear and immediate risks to the UK” and “raise legitimate and significant national security concerns for the country as a whole”.4

To plug this gap the Government proposes to amend the UK merger control rules so as to bring more transactions in these specific sectors within scope and thereby to give itself jurisdiction to review them on national security grounds. Specifically, the Government proposes to reduce the turnover threshold so that mergers in these sectors would qualify for review under the UK merger control rules where the target has over £1m of UK turnover (compared to £70m under the normal rules) and to amend the share of supply test so that mergers in these sectors will qualify for review under the UK merger control rules where the target has a 25% share of supply of goods/services of a particular description in the UK (compared to the normal rules which require the transaction to create or increase a share of supply of 25%).5

Underlining the urgency described in the Green Paper (and considering that these changes are expected to impact only a small number of transactions), the Government has provided for just four weeks (ending 14 November 2017) for the consultation on Proposal 1.6 The Green Paper also makes clear that the Government intends to implement Proposal 1 immediately after consultation. We can therefore expect the new thresholds to apply to mergers in the relevant sectors (i.e. military and dual-use and key parts of the advanced technology sectors) within the next few months.

Beyond these sectors, the Government wishes to consult more extensively (see below) before making any changes.

Proposal 2: Longer term substantive changes

The Green Paper notes that, in contrast with other countries (e.g. Australia, Canada, US and France), the UK’s approach to national security review “appears less well developed […] to deal with the potential risks to national security that we face, and the scale of investment our national infrastructure will require”. In particular, the Government believes the existing regime is ill suited to combat risks of espionage, sabotage or the ability to exert inappropriate leverage.

This is principally because the existing regime is limited to transactions which involve businesses and which qualify for review under the EU or UK merger control regimes. Whereas national security concerns may also arise in relation to transactions which do not involve a business per se – for example, new projects, land sites near sensitive locations and acquisitions of bare assets (non-business entities such as machinery or intellectual property) – or which do not meet the merger control tests. The Green Paper also identifies the voluntary nature of the existing system as a potential risk in that it may mean that the Government is not aware of transactions that could raise national security concerns, as well as a potential source of uncertainty for transaction parties since they cannot be certain which transactions the Government may or may not call in for review.7

The Government proposes to address these concerns by either or both of:

  1. expanding the existing call-in power to capture any acquisition of a UK business entity by any investor which the Government reasonably believes raises national security concerns (i.e. removing the turnover and share of supply tests as limits on the Government’s ability to call in transactions for review on non-competition grounds); and
  2. a mandatory notification regime applicable only to foreign investment in the provision of essential functions in certain parts of key sectors of the economy. Recognising the potential burden on business of a mandatory notification system, the Government aims to “ensure the tightest possible focus” for a mandatory regime: only an identified set of essential functions within the civil nuclear, communications, defence, energy and transport sectors are proposed to be within scope.8
  3. The Green Paper also proposes to bring transactions involving new projects, bare assets and land within the Government’s national security jurisdiction (consistent with the position in overseas regimes).9

Impact on the UK as a destination for foreign investment

Although the Green Paper proposals seek to tighten up regulation of foreign investment, there are reasons to retain some confidence in the UK’s pledge to stay open to foreign investment. Certain features of the UK proposals are aimed at reducing the regulatory burden on investors.

For instance, the Green Paper proposes a well-defined call-in window for intervening in a transaction post-closing (in contrast, CFIUS for example has an indefinite ability to call in unnotified transactions); and, as discussed above, it contemplates the possibility of applying either voluntary or mandatory notification requirements, depending on the sector/type of transaction. This targeted approach should constrain the additional burden on businesses and should facilitate efficient operation of the regime by the

Government, although it is clear that extra public resources will be needed.

Comment

The message that the UK remains open for business is repeated often in the Green Paper. The focus on Government intervention on national security rather than broader political grounds is welcome. By incorporating various safeguards – for instance limiting the more interventionist proposals such as mandatory notification to specific activities in specific sectors – and positioning the reforms as aiming to bring the UK regime broadly into line with those operating in other major destinations for foreign investment, the Government hopes to be seen as being genuinely focused on “protect[ing] national security without disrupting or discouraging the vast majority of foreign investment”. It remains to be seen whether the eventual firm proposals, if and as adopted, strike the right balance.

_________________________________________

1 See Green Paper published on 17 October 2017 here. Reforms in this area were promised in the Queen’s Speech in June 2017.

2 Concluding a brief discussion of the Proposed EC Regulations, paragraph 70 of the Green Paper states that “screening to prevent [national security threats] merit special treatment but this should not be conflated with screening to control market access for protectionist reasons. The UK is committed to free trade and investment, which must remain a priority for both a successful UK and European economy.

3 The Government has no plans to change its powers to review transactions on grounds of financial stability and media plurality.

4 The dual-use sector refers to the design and production of items that could have both military and civilian uses, and which are on the Strategic Export Control List. The relevant parts of the advanced technology sector are multi-purpose computing hardware and quantum-based technology.

5 The existing UK merger control rules will continue to apply to transactions outside these specific sectors.

6 The Green Paper notes that only around 4% of UK businesses are above the £1m threshold and past public interest interventions for national security purposes have been extremely low (only seven times since the introduction of the existing regime).

7 The merger notification regime in the UK is voluntary (rather than mandatory) so there is no obligation to submit a notification for review even where the transaction meets the relevant thresholds.

8 These essential functions have been narrowed down from amongst the 13 sectors of UK national infrastructure and excludes parts of these sectors that either do not pose national security risks or are already sufficiently protected under existing regulations. The Government also believes that there may be a case for including emergency services and government; but that chemicals, financial services, food, health, space and water should not automatically fall within scope.

9 The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) for example takes account of proximity of the target’s assets to sensitive governmental locations when assessing national security risks. The Australian and Canadian regimes capture investments in new businesses and investments in assets.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and have not been endorsed, confirmed, or approved by XBMA or any of the editors of XBMA Forum, nor by XBMA’s founders, members, contributors, academic partners, advisory board members, or others. No inference to the contrary should be drawn.

POLISH UPDATE – Polish protection of strategic companies and new rules of administering state assets

Editors’ Note:  This article was contributed by Tomasz Wardyński, founding partner of Wardyński & Partners and a member of XBMA’s Legal Roundtable, and Izabela Zielińska-Barłożek, head of Wardyński & Partners’ Mergers & Acquisitions Practice. Mr. Wardyński co-authored this article with Maciej Szewczyk, senior associate, and Wojciech Szopiński, associate, from the firm’s Mergers & Acquisitions Practice.

Executive summary

Legal restrictions concerning companies operating in certain strategic sectors of the economy and state companies were enacted in Poland. The Polish regulations track similar limitations already functioning in some other countries in the European Union and elsewhere. Under these restrictions, the Polish authorities can object to numerous transactions involving companies deemed to be key entities. A planned transaction was blocked for the first time on this basis in late 2016. On 1 January 2017, new rules also entered into force concerning trading in shares belonging to companies in which the State Treasury holds an ownership stake, providing among things for a requirement to include limitations on alienation of share rights in the articles of association of the companies in question. The scope of these limitations is broad and the consequences of violating them are severe. First and foremost, failure to follow the procedure provided for a transaction involving a key company will render the transaction void. Violation of restrictions on alienation of shares held by state companies included in the company’s articles of association will not invalidate the transaction but will expose the persons involved in the transaction to liability in damages.

Main Article:

Polish protection of strategic companies and new rules of administering state assets

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and have not been endorsed, confirmed, or approved by XBMA or any of the editors of XBMA Forum, nor by XBMA’s founders, members, contributors, academic partners, advisory board members, or others. No inference to the contrary should be drawn.

 

UK UPDATE – A New Takeover Panel Consultation

Editors’ Note: Contributed by Nigel Boardman, a partner at Slaughter and May and a founding director of XBMA.  Mr. Boardman is one of the leading M&A lawyers in the UK with broad experience in a wide range of cross-border transactions.

The Panel has today (19 September 2017) published its consultation paper PCP 2017/2 on statements of intention. The Panel has been concerned for some time that the disclosures by a bidder in relation to its intentions for the target business (required to be made in the offer document) have been bland and generic, and therefore do not really provide the target board and other stakeholders (particularly employees and pension scheme trustees) with sufficient specific information to make a meaningful assessment of the bid. This is an area of the Code that has now been consulted on a number of times, firstly following Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury, and subsequently following Pfizer’s possible bid for AstraZeneca (which did not proceed).  The consultation paper sets out certain proposals to address this issue and other related matters.

In summary, the proposals would, if implemented: 

widen the scope of “social/employment disclosures” by bidders from the current regime (impact on employees and places of business)

In particular, the Panel is requiring specific disclosures to cover:

o   the impact on the target’s R&D function

o   the “balance of skills and functions of [the target’s] employees and management”

o   location of the target’s HQ and HQ functions

The changes are presumably intended to make generic disclosures harder. Notably, the Panel has expressed the view that statements of intention should not be qualified by reference to a bidder’s “current” or “present” intentions.

require that the same “social disclosures” regarding the target business, employees and location be made at an earlier point in the offer timetable

This would be at the time of the Rule 2.7 firm offer announcement rather than just in the offer document. This front-loads the disclosures so that a bidder must disclose intentions for the target business by the time it makes the announcement of its actual offer (i.e. up to a 28 days’ acceleration of the information).

prohibit the bidder from publishing the offer document within 14 days of the Rule 2.7 announcement except with the consent of the target

The main impact of this proposal is on hostile offers since the bidder cannot launch a hostile offer and immediately publish the offer document. Currently a target has 14 days after publication of the offer document to publish its defence document. Further, in a situation where the target may need accountants and other advisers to produce profit forecasts and other reports to mount a proper defence, it was thought that the current 14 day period puts too much pressure on the target. This new requirement gives the target at least 28 days to respond to a hostile offer.

In a recommended offer, the target is normally involved in the production of the (combined) offer document and can, of course, consent to earlier publication.

impose additional requirements on the party which has made any post-offer undertakings or post-offer intention statements

This would require that party:

o   in relation to any post-offer undertakings, to publish the reports that it is currently required to submit to the Panel in relation to its compliance with those undertakings. Currently publication is only required at the Panel’s discretion. The reports must be produced and published at least on an annual basis (where the undertaking is for a period longer than a year)

o   in relation to post-offer intention statements, to confirm in writing to the Panel whether it has taken, or not taken the course of action described in the statement at the end of the 12 months following the end of the offer period (or such other period specified in the statement) and the confirmation must be published/announced via an RIS. Current practice only requires a private confirmation to be made to the Panel at the end of the period.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and have not been endorsed, confirmed, or approved by XBMA or any of the editors of XBMA Forum, nor by XBMA’s founders, members, contributors, academic partners, advisory board members, or others. No inference to the contrary should be drawn.

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