Walmart hearing postponed

2011-03-22 14:22

The Competition Tribunal today postponed its hearings into US retailer Walmart’s planned acquisition of a controlling share in Massmart, after a request from government.

Various government departments on Friday last week applied for a postponement of the hearings due to start in Pretoria today.

The tribunal would now hear evidence from all parties from May 9 to 13, it said.

Closing arguments on the case would be heard on May 16.

The departments of economic development, trade and industry, and agriculture, fisheries and forestry wanted to participate in the merger hearings as they considered it to raise “very significant public interest issues”.

The government said it was not prepared for this week’s hearings as it had not timeously received all the information from the merging parties, which it had asked for in October last year.

However, Walmart and Massmart were “strongly opposed” to a postponement, they said in their replying affidavit.

The government departments said they “had only recently come to the conclusion that, contrary to the assurances which had previously been given, the merging parties were seemingly not willing to make tangible or meaningful commitment with regard to procurement and small (especially broad-based black economic empowerment) businesses”.

Massmart and Walmart said postponement applications were normally sought when the applicant had a defined case and wanted more time to make out that case.

This was not the case here as the government departments had not sought any specific relief or made out a case for or against the merger.

For this reason, the government should not be granted a postponement, they argued.

Members of the Anti-Walmart Coalition planned to assemble outside the tribunal to demand that it either reject the Walmart deal, or set conditions to protect South Africa and its workers.

“We will tell the Competition Tribunal that we believe it is not in the best interest of South Africa for Walmart to be allowed into our country,” said Bones Skulu, general secretary of the SA Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union, which is a member of the coalition.

“We will also outline the conditions that must apply in the event that the tribunal believes differently and or otherwise rules that the company may enter.

“Those conditions must contain protections for workers, suppliers, and the wider South African community,” he said.

The Competition Commission has recommended the transaction go through with no conditions.

In January, shareholders voted to accept Walmart’s bid to acquire 51% of Massmart for R148 a share in a deal worth around R17 billion.

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