The Trade Competition Act B.E. 2560 (2017) (TCA) is the primary competition legislation in Thailand. Sections 54 and 55 of the TCA prohibit any business operator from acting jointly with another business operator(s) to undertake a joint arrangement that will create a monopoly or reduce or limit competition regarding any goods or services. The guideline issued by the Trade Competition Commission (the “Commission”) considers various kinds of arrangements, including those not in writing (such as verbal and tacit agreements).
The Commission is the statutory body established to enforce the TCA. The Commission works at the Trade Competition Commission of Thailand set up to undertake administrative work for the Commission. The Commission and the Trade Competition Commission of Thailand are known collectively as the “TCCT‟.
While cartel matters are adjudicated by the Commission, its decisions can be appealed to the Administrative Court of Thailand. See 4.8 Available Forms of Judicial Review or Appeal.
The TCA provides two forms of penalties – criminal and administrative penalties, depending on the materiality of the offence.
Criminal penalties apply to serious offences, including so-called hardcore cartels (anti-competitive agreements among competitors on sale or purchase prices, limitation of quantity or output, bid rigging and territory or customer allocation). Penalties include a fine of up to 10% of the turnover in the year of violation and up to two years’ imprisonment, or both. If the offence is committed in the first year of operation, the maximum fine imposed is up to THB1 million.
Administrative penalties apply to less serious offences, including other anti-competitive agreements (anti-competitive agreements among business operators on quantity reduction, jointly appointing the same exclusive distributor to distribute the same products and to set the same trade terms). The penalties include a fine of up to 10% of turnover in the year of violation.
Additionally, third parties who suffered loss or damage as a result of a competition law infringement will have the right to seek relief through civil proceedings.
Any persons who have suffered damages can challenge cartel behaviour or the effects thereof in the form of damage lawsuits. They are entitled to file claims for civil damages against companies that participated in cartels.
In filing a lawsuit for damages under paragraph one, the Consumer Protection Commission, or associations or foundations that the Consumer Protection Commission recognises under the law on consumer protection, have a right to file a lawsuit for damage on behalf of consumers or members of the associations or foundations, as the case may be.
A lawsuit for damages must be filed within one year from the date the person suffering damage came to know or should have known the cause of such damage.
Cartel or prohibited joint conducts are prescribed in Sections 54 and 55 of the TCA.
The TCA establishes two main types of prohibited joint conduct:
Cartel Conduct (Section 54)
Competing business operators are prohibited from engaging in the following forms of joint conduct that result in a monopoly or a reduction or restriction of competition in the market:
Section 54 does not apply to any transaction executed by and between business operators who have a relationship in terms of policy or control in accordance with the rules prescribed by the Commission (ie, companies within single economic entities).
Other Anti-Competitive Joint Conduct (Section 55)
Business operators at different levels of the supply chain are prohibited from the following forms of joint conduct that result in monopoly or reduction or restriction of competition:
This provision is quite unique compared to competition laws in other jurisdictions as vertical cartel is not a common concept under general competition law principles.
Exemptions (Section 56)
Section 55 does not apply to:
The TCA does not specify the statute of limitations for each type of offence committed under the Act. Therefore, the general provisions concerning the statute of limitations under the Thai Penal Code and the Thai administrative laws would be applicable.
For the violation of the provisions that carry a criminal penalty (such as a cartel provision), the statute of limitations period is ten years.
For violations of other provisions that carry administrative penalties (such as the other anti-competitive joint conducts), Thai administrative laws do not establish the limit in time within which the authority or state official is prohibited from issuing an order against the private sector; strictly speaking, there is no time bar for the Commission to impose an administrative fine on the business operator for the violation, which would amount to the administrative penalty under the TCA. However, the TCCT may adopt a ten-year statutory period since it is a general statutory period under Thai law.
If the conduct occurs entirely in foreign jurisdictions but affects the Thai market, the TCCT would have jurisdiction over that case.
The TCA does not stipulate any provision regarding principles of comity, and to date, there has been no precedent explicitly mentioning the application of principles of comity in relation to the enforcement of the TCA.
In terms of cartel enforcement and investigations, there have been no changes in policy or practices resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, which increased the importance of online platform operators, the TCCT focuses more on unfair trade practices engaged by online platform operators due to its immediate impact on other small and medium-sized business operators.
The TCCT welcomed four new members of the Commission in March 2023, who are elected for a four-year term, commencing 27 March 2023. The change to the members of the Commission may lead to certain changes with respect to the direction and focus of the TCCT.
A number of new cartel decisions were published by the TCCT in early 2023, long after the first decision relating to cartels which was published in 2020. The cases were decided in 2021 and 2022 but were only published in early 2023.
In addition to cartel enforcements, the TCCT has announced that it will focus on the following areas and matters in 2023:
After receiving a complaint, the TCCT must first conclude that there are grounds for investigating a potential violation under the TCA before it can commence an administrative investigation. The Secretary General of the TCCT is empowered to gather facts and evidence, and to submit a preliminary opinion to the Commission.
The Secretary General can also appoint officers to form a special task force to carry out the investigation. The special task force will have a broad scope of power to investigate facts and gather evidence, such as summoning witnesses, issuing a subpoena for evidence, entering business places, or taking samples of goods for examination. The special task force will have only one month from when it was appointed to complete the initial investigation.
Having investigated all the facts and evidence, the Secretary General will form an opinion to be proposed to the Commission, who will make the following decisions:
Even though not actively carried out, dawn raids are possible under Thai law. The TCCT can conduct a dawn raid when it considers it necessary to search and seize or gather documents, accounts, registrations, or other evidence for the benefit of investigation and to proceed with a case under the TCA.
Generally, a warrant would be required to conduct a dawn raid. However, the TCCT does not need a warrant to conduct a dawn raid if there are reasonable grounds to believe that, in delaying obtaining a search warrant, the evidence or the property is likely to be removed, concealed, destroyed or transformed.
Dawn raids cannot be conducted during the night without a warrant, except when it is during the business hours of the entity under investigation.
Where the search is made under a warrant, the limits to the powers of the investigation will be as provided in the warrant issued by the court. Where a search is conducted without a warrant, the TCCT has the power to confiscate documents and request access to computers and emails.
The entity or individual subject to dawn raid must co-operate with and facilitate the officers. Failure to facilitate the officer could render the business operator liable to a penalty under the TCA. Moreover, refusing to co-operate could be perceived as an attempt to obstruct the officials from executing their duties.
External counsel will be allowed to accompany and advise the entity or individual subject to the dawn raid. However, the external counsel will not be permitted to respond, give statements, or produce any materials on behalf of the entity or individual subject to the dawn raid unless a proper internal authorisation document is in place.
Under the TCA, the TCCT is empowered to interview related persons on the premises being inspected as well as request documents and access to computers and communication records. Therefore, officers and employees could be required to respond to interviews/questions. However, in practice, it is possible to inform the officers if such employees do not have the information required by the officers.
Any information provided verbally would be recorded in writing. It would be read to the individual and, after correction (if any), be signed by the individual. The relevant entity/individual may request copies of the statement for their record.
The TCA contains certain offences relating to not facilitating or non-cooperation with the TCCT’s investigations, in particular:
Officers or employees have a right to legal counsel (whether in-house or external). Legal counsel can be involved throughout the investigation process. When a business operator is required to provide documents or evidence, legal counsel can assist in reviewing those documents and/or evidence and provide advice. In an instance where an officer or employee is being interviewed, they may be accompanied by legal counsel; however, as noted in 2.2 Dawn Raids, to respond on behalf of the company, the legal counsel will need to have an internal authorisation document in place. Otherwise, the TCCT may require that counsel does not respond on behalf of the officer or employee.
If there is a dawn raid, a business operator can reach out to legal counsel and request that officials wait for the legal counsel to arrive, provided that the legal counsel arrives within a reasonable timeframe.
There is no requirement for individuals to obtain separate counsel. However, for cartel-related offences under Section 54 and Section 55 of the TCA, individuals (ie, directors or responsible persons) can also be subject to criminal or administrative penalties. Therefore, it may be appropriate for such individuals to obtain separate counsel.
The principal initial steps that the defence counsel should undertake during the initial phase of enforcement should be as follows:
The TCCT may issue a written request for:
Dawn raids (see 2.2 Dawn Raids) could be another way of obtaining other types of information. Also, a leniency programme, if implemented, could play an important role for the TCCT in obtaining information, especially in the context of an anti-competitive joint conduct investigation.
There is no distinction between the information available by searching on a local computer and information that would have to be sent into the jurisdiction. A company or individual must provide such documents or information in relation to the subject matter of the investigations, even if the information is located in other jurisdictions or stored in electronic form in the cloud.
Pursuant to the Criminal Procedure Code, privilege is available to prevent the disclosure of any confidential document or fact entrusted or imparted by a party or witness to the lawyer in their capacity as a lawyer. The laws provide that when a party to the case or a person is required to give testimony or produce the aforesaid evidence, they are entitled to refuse to produce such evidence. However, the court may order that such party or person give or produce such evidence if it is of the opinion that the refusal is groundless.
Please note that the provisions on privilege only apply in court proceedings or criminal investigations. The law is silent when it comes to other proceedings. Therefore, the legal counsel would not be able to invoke attorney-client privilege to refuse to produce evidence requested by the TCCT in the course of a competition law investigation. Failure to comply with the officials’ request could result in a penalty under the TCA and could be perceived as an attempt to obstruct the officials in the execution of their duties.
Privilege against self-incrimination is available as a general right under the Constitution of Thailand.
As mentioned in 2.3 Spoliation of Information, the TCA provides for offences in relation to the non-cooperation/obstruction of the TCCT’s investigation, which carry a sentence of imprisonment, a fine, or both.
The TCCT is entitled to request and/or confiscate any materials that are reasonably considered necessary for the investigation. Therefore, any documents containing confidential or proprietary information can also be obtained by the TCCT. Documents of third parties are not excepted. However, the TCA has a provision to ensure that confidential information should not be disclosed. Such obligation also applies to TCCT’s officials.
The defence counsel for the target of a cartel investigation raises legal and factual arguments by making a written statement to the TCCT once notified of the alleged violation or during the investigation. Defence counsel also has an opportunity to present arguments during an investigation.
The TCCT is empowered to fine a business operator that violates the TCA in accordance with guidelines issued by it. Although, to date, there are no specific guidelines with respect to leniency, it is envisioned that the TCCT could use its discretion to favourably reduce the administrative penalty for persons who assisted in identifying the prohibited conduct, in a similar way to leniency schemes in other countries.
The amnesty regime is not available under Thai Competition laws.
In general, the TCCT will request an interview or a written statement (along with other evidence) from the company under investigation, and the company may have to send an employee who has the knowledge or was involved in the investigating matter to attend the interview or give a statement because such employee has relevant input. In this case, the statement is given on behalf of the company.
The TCA grants the TCCT a rather broad authority for fact-finding. Apart from inquiries about the company, the TCCT may request any person (including other operators in the same industry) for an interview, written statement and any document or evidence. Therefore, the TCCT can issue a request directly to the employee. In such a case, the employee will be giving a statement on their behalf.
In doing so, the TCCT has to issue an official request letter detailing the interview date and time or the documents required from the employee. Failure to comply with the request letter may result in criminal liability (see 2.3 Spoliation of Information).
The TCCT may, at its discretion, issue to any person (including the target company) a request letter for an interview, documents or evidence as it deems necessary for the fact-finding. Failure to comply with the request letter may result in criminal liability (see 2.3 Spoliation of Information).
Since the TCCT has the authority to conduct fact-finding from any person as it deems necessary, it is possible that the TCCT may do so to entities operating outside Thailand. Nevertheless, it may be difficult for the TCCT to enforce the request or penalty for compliance failure against entities not located within the TCCT’s territorial jurisdiction.
In practice, it is also possible that the TCCT may request the company under investigation to facilitate the authority by co-ordinating with and obtaining such documents from the entities operating outside Thailand. This is provided that the company under investigation has a certain relationship with the entities operating outside Thailand, eg, being affiliates or trading partners.
The TCCT plans to implement inter-agency co-operation with other governmental agencies within Thailand. The co-operation is likely to be in the form of linking or granting the TCCT access to the corporate databases of each governmental agency. However, there has not been an official announcement on whether such co-ordination has been successfully implemented.
The information likely to be shared with the TCCT includes that relating to M&A, change of shareholding structure, and import/export sales volume.
The TCCT has certain co-operation agreements in place with foreign competition agencies for knowledge exchange. However, there has not been any official record that the co-operation extends to investigation or case enforcement.
The TCCT has the authority to initiate an investigation and issue a decision imposing criminal and administrative penalties for all offences under the TCA by itself. After a complaint is filed or the TCCT becomes aware of any potential violation of the TCA, the TCCT will conduct a fact-finding process to confirm if there is merit to the case and propose that the Commission approve the case initiation. If approval is granted, then an ad hoc subcommittee will be appointed to handle the investigation. Subsequently, the TCCT, via a subcommittee, will issue the alleged defendant a written notification of charges brought against such person and request an interview or submission of evidence.
The information submitted by the interested parties to the TCCT will be kept confidential by the TCCT, and the TCA does not explicitly provide that the defendant has the right to obtain such information from the TCCT. Therefore, the request for information may be made by the defendant and granted by the TCCT on a case-by-case basis, provided the disclosure is for the benefit of the investigation or any proceedings of the TCCT.
After the delivery of a decision, the alleged defendant must challenge the decision within 15 days from the date of receiving the decision to be eligible to appeal the TCCT′s decision to the Administrative Court. The TCCT is then required to address the objection made within 30 days. If the TCCT′s response is still unsatisfactory, the alleged defendant may submit a claim to the Appeal Court to revoke or revise the TCCT′s decision within 90 days from the date the party knows or should have known the ground of appeal.
The actions that the TCCT may bring are limited only to criminal and administrative actions.
The TCA nevertheless allows the interested party to claim civil damages against the person who violates the TCA. The parties wishing to bring a civil action, Consumer Protection Board or consumer protection organisation have to submit a complaint to the civil court having jurisdiction over the case to claim for damages. The statute of limitations for claims of damages for violation of the TCA is one year from the date the injured party becomes aware or should have become aware of the grounds for claiming damages.
Enforcement actions will generally be brought against all relevant parties for the same offence and relevant facts. If the defendant is a company, the same offence may be alleged against the director or authorised person of the company and they will be subject to the same procedure as the company. It is unlikely that the parties could request a separate proceeding or investigation.
The burden of proof is varied in different types of proceedings. For proceedings initiated by the TCCT, the TCCT may impose an order when it can be reasonably believed that the relevant party violates and will violate the TCA.
For administrative proceedings, the court is empowered and can take an active role in the fact-finding process, while the person making a claim has the burden to prove that their claim is true (except when such claim is general knowledge or indisputable fact). The Administrative Court’s fact-finding will rely heavily on documentary evidence.
For criminal proceedings, the burden of proof lies with the claimant, and it is assumed that the defendant is not guilty until proven otherwise.
In an investigation to impose criminal or administrative penalties under the TCA, the TCCT will act as the fact-finder and applies the law to the facts.
In an Administrative Court proceeding, the court will act as the fact-finder; and, in the criminal proceedings, the court will consider the evidence gathered by the police and submitted by the parties.
The TCCT relies heavily on the evidence submitted by the parties under the investigation and other relevant parties that submit evidence to the case as required by a request letter. Nevertheless, the TCCT may, at its discretion, gather information from other sources available to them, including evidence from other jurisdictions and submitted voluntarily by other interested parties.
As noted previously, a leniency regime has not yet been implemented by the TCCT.
In summary, for criminal court proceedings, the evidence considered will be limited to that submitted by the parties to the case. The evidence is inadmissible if it has not been obtained legally. The following is generally inadmissible, except when allowed at the discretion of the fact-finder:
For Administrative Court proceedings, the evidence is not limited to materials submitted by the parties to the case but extends to those found by the fact-finder or submitted by other interested parties. Evidence not submitted by the parties to the case is admissible on the condition that the parties are given a chance to consider, review and introduce evidence to prove otherwise.
Most experts are either economists or academics who are economic, market or technical experts. The experts may be retained by the parties under investigation or the TCCT.
As noted, client-attorney privilege is recognised, but may be rebutted by order of the court in court proceedings if it views that the privilege is groundless.
Regarding multiple or simultaneous proceedings, they may be possible where the violation of the TCA concerns multiple defendants and the case against them proceeds in parallel.
It is also possible that multiple proceedings may occur when the TCCT imposes a cease and desist order on the defendant during an investigation to prevent the defendant from continuing the violation or committing another offence of the TCA, and the defendant fails to comply with the same. In such a case, another proceeding or violation of the TCCT’s order may be brought against the defendant in parallel with the ongoing investigation.
The Commission is empowered to determine the penalties for violating the cartel provisions of the TCA (including the power to settle the case on the violation of Section 54 of the TCA on cartels that carry criminal penalties). When imposing penalties, the Commission must consider the severity of the violation and its impact on the system or competition in the market. In most decisions of the Commission, the penalties would often be imposed on both corporate entities and individuals (eg, a person responsible for the violation of the TCA or failing to take action, resulting in the violation).
The Commission has not published a formal guideline on settlement or even a leniency scheme. Nevertheless, in practice, experience has indicated that the Commission would generally take into account the offenders’ co-operation with the investigation and handing over useful information to the inquiry. This co-operation will be factored in when the Commission determines the penalties (along with other factors such as the severity of the violation and impact on the system or competition in the market).
Thai courts are not legally bound by the decisions of the Commission. Therefore, the courts remain free to conduct a hearing and trial, while the decision of the Commission could be relied upon, among other evidence, in the proceedings.
Many pieces of Thai legislation contain requirements on the qualification of the directors for corporate entities, including, eg, the Public Company Limited Act, Foreign Business Act, and Direct-Sale and Direct-Marketing Act. Nevertheless, according to the TCA, if the offender agrees to settle the penalties imposed by the Commission, the criminal case will be deemed settled and the offender will not have a criminal record.
A person violating the cartel provision (ie, Section 54 of the TCA) will be subject to a criminal penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 10% of turnover in the year of violation, or both. If the violation is committed by a juristic person, an individual (eg, a person responsible for the violation or failure to take action resulting in the violation) shall also be subject to the same penalties.
The Commission is empowered to determine the penalties based on various factors, including the severity of the violation, impact on the market or general consumers, and the level of co-operation of the offender during the investigation (eg, providing useful information in a timely and efficient manner as requested).
There is no concept of civil sanction or penalties under the TCA. However, the administrative penalties (ie, a fine) will be imposed by the Commission for the violation of the other anti-competitive joint conduct provision (ie, Section 55 of the TCA, including a vertical cartel or certain forms of the horizontal cartel on certain matters having less severity to the competition in the market). The fine can be imposed at the rate of up to 10% of the turnover in the year of violation.
The TCA also provides the right to claim civil damages (see 3.7 Procedure for Issuing Complaints/Indictments in Civil Cases).
Being a relatively new regulator, the Commission has not yet made clear if the effective compliance programme can be used as a factor in considering imposing penalties. Nevertheless, the Commission is required by law to thoroughly consider all relevant factors before passing its decision and imposing penalties. As such, it is currently believed that if it can be proven that the management has taken reasonable care in preventing the violation of the competition law (by putting in place a compliance programme in the organisation), this would play a role in the Commission’s determination of penalties (especially for the individual’s penalty).
The TCA and its subordinate legislations do not provide mandatory consumer redress at the moment. However, a person who suffered damage from the violation is entitled to file a civil case for compensatory damages (see 5. Private Civil Litigation Involving Alleged Cartels).
An appeal process for the Commission’s decisions and orders is available. For the offences with administrative penalties (ie, other anti-competitive joint conduct cartels), the party may submit the appeal to the Commission within 15 days from the date the party receives the order. The Commission must also inform the parties of the appeal right and process in its order. The party may also submit the appeal to the Administrative Court within 90 days from the date the party knew or should have known the grounds of appeal.
For the offences with criminal penalties, the case will be prosecuted by the prosecutor pursuant to the criminal procedural law if the offender refuses or does not settle the case within the timeline prescribed by the Commission.
A person injured due to a violation of the TCA is entitled to the right of civil action to claim compensatory damages. The Consumer Protection Committee or a consumer protection-related association or foundation certified under the Consumer Protection Law is also empowered to initiate such action on behalf of the injured person. The action to claim damages must be submitted to the court no later than one year from when the injured person is aware of or should have been aware of the incident/violation.
A class action lawsuit is available for the violation of the TCA. In order to initiate the class action lawsuit, the plaintiff must be able to substantiate the basis for the class action to the satisfaction of the court. These include, among others, the fact that the members of the class action group are the interested parties and can be identified, the common nature of the violation committed against the group of injured persons, and the class action lawsuit is more efficient and fairer to the parties than the regular lawsuit.
To date (this guide published June 2023), there has not yet been a cartel case brought for consideration in Thai courts. Therefore, the passing-on defences have never been tested before the court.
The evidence gathered from an investigation or proceeding is admissible.
To date (this guide published June 2023), there has not yet been a cartel case brought for consideration in Thai courts. Thus far, experience has shown that the timeframe for the court to render a judgment could be many months due to the court process (eg, scheduling the hearings, submission of evidence, etc).
The claimant may include compensation for attorney fees as part of its request in the lawsuit. The court is empowered to grant such compensation at its discretion.
Legally speaking, unsuccessful claimants are not obliged to pay defence costs or attorney fees. However, if a defendant includes compensation for the attorney fees in the request part of the statement of defence, the court is empowered to grant such compensation accordingly.
The TCA provides that any claim for compensation from the violation of the TCA shall be under the jurisdiction of the Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court. Submission of an appeal to the higher courts is permissible. This is, however, under the condition that the court of first instance reviewed and accepted the appeal for the consideration of the Appeal Court.
There is no other pertinent information.
The website of the TCCT provides basic guidance and a comprehensive flowchart on the process for the adjudication of claims both where the violation carries criminal penalties (ie, cartels) and where the violation carries administrative penalties.
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Enforcement in Cartels
Overall, there has been some increase of enforcement with respect to cartel provisions in the past year after having been static for several years. The Trade Competition Commission of Thailand (TCCT) has recently published on its website a number of cartel-related decisions that were concluded in 2021–22.
Based on the TCCT’s latest annual report (Annual Report 2022), 4% of the complaints received in 2021 were related to cartels.
Highlighted below are interesting findings in the recently published cartel-related decisions of the TCCT.
Decision on a price-fixing agreement between manufacturers and distributors of ice products, decided on 22 July 2021
In 2013, over 20 manufacturers and distributors of ice products agreed in writing to increase the prices of various ice products to a certain price range. The TCCT considered that such action constitutes price fixing, which is a prohibited anti-competitive joint conduct under Section 27(1) of the Trade Competition Act B.E. 2542 (1999) (ie, the former law which was effective at the time), and Section 54 of the Trade Competition Act B.E. 2560 (2017) (ie, the current law). The penalty under the current law was imposed on the relevant business operators as it is more favourable for the business operators.
Based on the decision, the business operators were fined at the rate of approximately 5% of their turnover in the year of the violation. The authorised persons/representatives of the business operators were also subject to fines. The rates of the fines imposed on the individuals varied. The fine was also reduced by up to 50% of the original fine imposed on the business operators if the individual admitted to the wrongdoing and up to 30% of the original fine imposed on the business operators if the individual provided useful information to the authority.
In this case, the TCCT highlights that price fixing is constituted upon the conclusion of the agreement between business operators. The fact that some business operators who took part in the price-fixing agreement did not actually follow through cannot be used as a defence or exemption of liability under the Trade Competition Act 2017.
Decision on price-related announcement by the Gold Traders Association, decided on 19 May 2022
In 2021, the Gold Traders Association (GTA), an association in Thailand comprised of business operators who are engaged in the business of buying and selling gold, was investigated by the TCCT for announcing recommended resale prices (RRPs) of gold bars and ornaments to the public for reference purposes.
The announced RRPs were determined by the association committees, who are gold traders. The TCCT confirms in its decision that the daily announcement on RRPs does not constitute a price fixing under the Trade Competition Act 2017 because there is sufficient evidence to support that the GTA’s members and non-members, who are gold retailers and wholesalers, can freely deviate from the announced RRPs.
Decision on price-related announcement by the Association of Hen Egg Farmers, Traders and Exporters, decided on 29 September 2022
In this case, it was found that the Association of Hen Egg Farmers, Traders and Exporters had regularly announced RRPs, as determined by its committees, to the members and the public for reference purposes. The association committees are comprised of a number of hen egg farmers and traders who would gather to determine the RRPs from time to time.
The TCCT decided that such action does not violate the Trade Competition Act 2017 because the action does not result in the following:
Decision on price fixing of alternative COVID-19 vaccines, decided on 15 December 2022
Based on a third-party informant, it was alleged that (i) a government organisation (state-owned enterprise) providing medical and public health services, (ii) a registered association (with 333 members) co-ordinating between its members and the public and private sectors, and (iii) an importer and sole distributor of alternative COVID-19 vaccines in Thailand, had agreed on the price of the alternative COVID-19 vaccines. The third-party informant also alleged that the parties jointly agreed to impose certain sales conditions – ie, tying and bundling of vaccine allergy insurance with the sale of the vaccine and requiring consumers to make a full upfront payment for the vaccines.
With respect to price fixing, the TCCT found that the above-mentioned parties had fixed the price of the alternative vaccines on several occasions in 2021. However, it was concluded that such price fixing was a result of the COVID-19 crisis where it was necessary for the public sector to manage the emergency situation by collaborating with the private sector and all other relevant players to import and distribute vaccines to the public. It was further found that the state-owned enterprise was authorised to do so in accordance with the Cabinet's resolution for the public interest and benefit. According to the Competition Act 2017, the conduct of a state-owned enterprise carried out in accordance with the law or resolutions of the Cabinet for state security, public interest or public utility reasons, is not subject to the provisions of the Trade Competition Act 2017. Therefore, it was decided by the TCCT that the conduct of the state-owned enterprise in this case was not subject to the Competition Act 2017.
With respect to the sales conditions (ie, tying and bundling of vaccine allergy insurance with the sale of the vaccine and upfront payment), the TCCT concluded that this was not a result of a joint conduct or an agreement between the parties. The state-owned enterprise was responsible for procuring the vaccines and co-ordinating with the manufacturer/importer for further sales to hospitals. The hospitals were required to make a full upfront payment to the state-owned enterprise and the price of the vaccine sold by the state-owned enterprise to the hospitals was net of value-added tax, storage, transportation and insurance. Therefore, together with emergency use of the vaccines which could result in injuries, the relevant hospitals decided on their own to sell the vaccines together with the insurance for safety reasons and also require full upfront payment from consumers. Therefore, it was decided by the TCCT that there was no violation of Sections 54 or 55 of the Competition Act 2017.
According to the TCCT's publication on this case, the TCCT also considered the practices of the relevant authorities in other jurisdictions, including the US Department of Justice, the European Commission and the Japan Fair Trade Commission) in similar situations and recognised the concept of a “crisis cartel”. It also mentioned that the price fixing for alternative vaccines was joint conduct during COVID-19, an emergency situation that may result in lack of supply and market failure. Nevertheless, it mentioned that the joint conduct during such period must be only short-term collaboration to ensure that it does not impact competition in the long term.
Based on the increased number of cartel decisions as investigated and published by the TCCT, it is expected that the TCCT will continue to focus on cartel matters. Business operators should be mindful of their business conduct, particularly in dealings with competitors and trade associations which could lead to potential competition law risks on cartels and collusive practices. Internal compliance health checks and compliance programmes are recommended to ensure compliance with Thai competition law.
Enforcement Focus and Trends
Similar to previous years, the TCCT will be focusing on the following areas and issues in the year ahead:
With respect to merger control, even though the Thai economy has not recovered to its pre-pandemic position, there is still a continued increase in term of value and volume in the M&A activities in Thailand. Accordingly, the 2022 Annual Report of the TCCT shows that there is substantial increase of merger filing every year, causing the TCCT to maintain its focus on merger control.
The new business trends seen increasingly in Thailand include more complicated business models and transaction structures, an increase of software and digital businesses, and sustainability/ESG-related matters. These all bring a challenge to the regulator to keep up with the rapid changes and also to consider how competition law should play a role in this new business landscape. It is understood, following informal discussions with the TCCT, that it has participated in various forums with international organisations and regulators in other jurisdictions regarding the approach towards digital economy and ESG issues. Updates in these areas are eagerly anticipated.
Implementation of Leniency Programme
Following the discussion on whether implementation of a leniency programme would be helpful in capturing cartel offences in the TCCT’s focus group meetings/public hearings arranged by the Thailand Development Research Institute in 2022, there has not been an official development on this issue.
Sustainability and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Matters
To date (guide published June 2023), the TCCT has not yet officially responded to the ESG trends. Therefore, specific exemptions or guidelines for ESG or other sustainability-related matters are not yet available in Thailand.
Nevertheless, there are ESG trends and movements by certain regulators in the region, including the publication of the draft sustainability guideline by the Japan Fair Trade Commission and the exemptions granted by the Australian competition authority with respect to collaborations between business operators in the interest of the environment.
Therefore, the coming wave of collaboration between business operators to achieve sustainability and ESG goals could lead to further development of competition policies and regulations in this area.
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