A Gilbert + Tobin lawyer has spoken publicly competition law as the media drew connections about how Rio Tinto's rejection of a tie-up worth US$20 billion from a Chinese company two weeks ago threatened to start a diplomatic row.
ABC Radio presenter Karon Snowdon, a finance correspondent, this week asked Nick Taylor, a partner in the competition group at the firm, whether China's anti-trust law applies internationally.
Her questions came after a Chinese official said the proposed joint venture between Rio Tinto and BHP could be opposed by China's anti-trust regulator.
"If there is an effect of eliminating or restricting competition on the Chinese iron ore markets then yes this law will apply," Taylor said.
Pressed as to the effect of potential action by Chinese authorities, and the chance of that delaying the Rio-BHP deal, imposing conditions, or rejecting it outright, Taylor said "trade barriers are not really something that will come out of this existing law".
"But the sorts of things that could be done under this law, really you need to have assets in China to enforce the law," which is not the case, and certainly not in BHP's case.
Rio may have some assets that the law could possibly attach to, said Taylor, but the question remains as to whether those assets are part of the joint venture.
Rio recently dumped the state-owned Chinalco and turned instead to BHP-Billion, with which it would form an iron ore joint venture.
China is a recent player in the competition law scene, said Taylor, who argues it will be interesting whether the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will have any moral suasion over the way China conducts its competition analysis.