Antitrust Lawyer Blog Commentary on Current Developments

Articles Posted in Uncategorized

When USTR announced tariffs on imports from China on July 6, 2018, it also announced the procedures and deadlines for seeking exclusions from such duties. Late last month, USTR announced that it would grant exclusions from tariffs for a second set of Chinese imports (“List 2”).  The second round of exclusions cover about 87 separate exclusion requests.

All persons could submit requests for exclusion of a particular product, why the exclusion was sought, along with other information such as the quantity and value of the Chinese-origin product.  The USTR then weighed several factors in determining whether to grant the exclusions, including: whether the product was only available in China, whether severe economic harm would result from the duties, and whether the products are important to Chinese industry.

The tariff exclusions from List 2 included about 87 exclusion requests, spanning three ten-digit HTS categories and thirty other product categories.  The exclusions will be dated retroactively to the date when USTR announced the tariffs, July 6, 2018.  Fortunately, any importer can take advantage of the relevant exclusion even if it was not the one that applied to the exclusion.

A lawsuit commenced by the American Institute for International Steel (“AIIS”) regarding the constitutionality of Section 232 before the Court of International Trade (“CIT”) has been decided.  A three-judge panel decided that Section 232 was not unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs argued that Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended, did not properly delegate authority to the Executive Branch because there is no “intelligible principle” under which Section 232 authorizes presidential action.

CIT determined that Section 232 did, in fact, meet the “intelligible principle” standard to uphold Section 232’s constitutionality.  In reaching its decision, the CIT relied on a 1976 case, Fed. Energy Admin. v. Algonquin SNG Inc., 426 U.S. 548 (1976), where the Supreme Court upheld a similar challenge against Section 232, finding that Section 232 “establishes clear preconditions to Presidential action. . . .”

The rising prices of existing and new brand prescription drugs could have serious consequences for tax payers and the 44 million seniors who rely on Medicare.  In order to rein in those costs, it’s vital for the Administration to encourage the use of generic drugs and biosimilars.

While Congress has been grabbing the headlines by holding numerous hearings and introducing various legislative proposals aimed at lowering drug prices, the Trump Administration has introduced some consumer-friendly changes to Medicare that should change the way drugs are priced for seniors and encourage the use of generics and biosimilars.  First, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) proposes to change how insurance plans and PBMs conduct drug utilization management and structure drug formularies.  Second, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) proposes to eliminate the rebates that pharmacy benefit managers (“PBMs”) receive from drug manufacturers and to encourage that any rebates go directly to seniors at the point of sale.

These significant reforms are necessary as the stakes are high.  Since 2006, Medicare Part D spending has more than doubled to roughly $100 billion per year in 2017, and it is expected to climb as a growing and aging population of baby boomers becomes Medicare eligible.  Today, despite making up a modest proportion of Part D prescriptions, brand drugs account for some 84% of total Part D spending.  Generics, meanwhile, which make up most of the Part D prescriptions, account for only 16% of the total spending and saved the Part D program approximately $82 billion in 2017.

Changes in the economy, technology, international business, and data collection have all converged to make the FTC rethink its enforcement priorities going forward. In the spirit of the 1995 Pitofsky Hearings, the FTC on September 13, 2018 kicked off the first day of hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century at Georgetown University Law Center. The public hearings are expected to open the debate up to the public and experts so the FTC can formulate a modern antitrust enforcement and consumer protection agenda.

The first day of hearings was broken into three panel discussions which broadly discussed the current landscape of antitrust law, U.S. economic competitiveness, and consumer protection and data privacy. The discussions focused on process and substance and how best to reframe FTC priorities to deal with complex 21st century issues.

Panelists drew lines in the sand when it came to whether the FTC is successfully navigating the landscape in an era of mega-mergers. Some panelists took the “populist” view that FTC’s merger guidelines are unhealthy for the overall economy and consumer welfare. The FTC has been guided by the “consumer welfare standard” when it comes to mergers, and has accommodated mergers that increase efficiencies and provide benefits in the form of lower prices to consumers.  Those in favor of the consumer welfare standard want to avoid a ‘big is bad’ mentality while keeping the interests of consumers in mind.  Proper antitrust enforcement is about protecting consumers, and protecting the competitive process, not about protecting competitors.  Some panelists argued, however, that the consumer welfare standard has failed to take into account important social concerns like privacy, rising social and income inequality, and decreased economic competition and dynamism. They pointed to recent studies seeming to vindicate the view that the FTC needs to reorient its enforcement procedures because the economy appears to be more concentrated and less dynamic than it used to be.

On December 6, 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren sharply criticized the state of antitrust enforcement in a speech at the Open Markets Institute.

She said that antitrust enforcers adopted the Chicago School principles, which narrowed the scope of the antitrust laws and allowed mega-mergers to proceed resulting in many concentrated industries.  She believes that antitrust enforcers already have the tools to reduce concentrated markets and that they simply must start enforcing the law again.

Senator Warren’s recommendations included stronger merger enforcement, cracking down on anticompetitive conduct and increasing agency involvement in defending competition.

On November 22, 2017, the FTC announced that retail fuel station and convenience store operator Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. (“ACT”) agreed to divest three fuel stations in Alabama to settle FTC charges that ACT’s proposed acquisition of Jet-Pep, Inc. (“Jet-Pep”) would violate federal antitrust law.

Under the terms of the deal, ACT will acquire ownership or operation of 120 Jet-Pep fuel outlets with convenience stores – 18 via Circle K, a wholly-owned subsidiary of ACT, and 102 via CrossAmerica Partners LP, over which Circle K has operational control and management.

According to the complaint, the acquisition would increase both the likelihood of successful coordination among the remaining firms and the likelihood that ACT will unilaterally exercise market power in three local retail fuel markets.  The complaint alleges that without a remedy, the acquisition of Jet-Pep by ACT would reduce the number of independent market participants from three or fewer in Brewton, Monroeville, and Valley, Alabama.

About a week before taking office, President-elect Trump had two high level meetings with CEOs of companies that are involved in significant acquisitions currently under antitrust review by the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  The meetings raise questions about the integrity and independence of the DOJ’s merger reviews going forward under a Trump administration. 


AT&T/Time Warner

On January 12, 2017, AT&T Inc. (“AT&T”) Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson said that in his meeting with President-elect Donald Trump they touched on job creation, investment and competition, but he noted that AT&T’s merger with Time Warner Inc. (“Time Warner”) did not come up.  We find that hard to believe given President-elect Trump’s open reservations about the transaction and his ongoing battle with CNN.

This is a new entry to test your Movable Type installation.

We have installed Movable Type on your server and configured the paths for the initial weblog in the system per your request. Do not delete this weblog (“First Weblog”) unless you know what you are doing, because it is already configured for your server.

You also do not want to delete the author that has been created for this weblog. Edit the user information to change the name, password, or other information. It is strongly recommended that you enter your birthplace in the author information so that your password can be recovered if you lose it or forget it.