COMPANIES looking to merge will soon be able to get confidential advice from the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) when it offers this new service.

Some businesses may wish to keep merger plans confidential for the time being but still want an indication on whether the move would infringe the Competition Act or not.

They may approach the CCS for confidential advice on this, it said in a statement yesterday.

The service is among a number of revisions to the Guidelines on Merger Procedures announced yesterday and due to take effect from July 1.

The guidelines were first issued on July 1, 2007. This update after five years comes as the CCS looks to apply the practical experience it has acquired.

Another change is the introduction of guidelines on applicable turnover levels, giving greater certainty to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) involved in merger talk.

The new guidelines make it clear that CCS is unlikely to investigate a merger situation where all the parties are small businesses.

Small businesses are defined as those with Singapore turnover below $5 million in the financial year immediately before the transaction. Another condition is that the combined worldwide turnover of all of the parties involved should be below $50 million, for the financial year preceding the transaction.

'It is important for merger parties to conduct their own self-assessment to assess if their merger is likely to result in a substantial lessening of competition in their market,' said the statement. 'If in doubt, they should, as early as possible, seek legal advice or make a merger filing with CCS.'

A third change is the revision of application Form M1 for merger filing, to give clearer instructions on what information is needed in making the filing.

The overall aim of the Guidelines on Merger Procedures is to give clarity to firms considering mergers, explain the circumstances in which the CCS should be notified of mergers for a decision, and set out CCS procedures for investigating mergers.

The revisions incorporate feedback from the business community that was received during the public consultation in February and March.

The CCS monitors mergers and acquisitions and may launch an investigation if there are mergers that could lead to a substantial slide in competition. Such mergers are prohibited under the Competition Act.

If CCS finds an infringement, it can tell the businesses to stop or reverse the merger, or to remedy any anti-competitive effects.

The CCS said yesterday that businesses should seek legal advice early to make sure their transactions comply with the Competition Act.