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Global competition regulators must better collaborate

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair has called for international cooperation at the International Chamber of Commerce/International Bar Association (ICC/IBA) Pre-International Competition Network (ICN) Forum.

user iconShandel McAuliffe 06 May 2022 Big Law
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Gina Cass-Gottlieb, the ACCC chair delivered the keynote at the event in Berlin on 4 May. She stated: “The ACCC sees collaboration with our international counterparts as a key component of our effectiveness as a regulator.”

Ms Cass-Gottlieb noted that her view that the ACCC relied on good working relationships with similar agencies worldwide was supported by previous ACCC chairs, including Rod Sims.

Highlighting concerns about digital platforms, Ms Cass-Gottlieb stated:


“We’re all aware of the significant growth and impact large digital platforms have had on our economies, and the benefits they have brought to businesses and individuals. However, over recent years ICN member agencies have produced a substantial body of research on competition harms in digital markets, especially markets where a few large digital platforms hold powerful positions and act as gatekeepers between businesses and consumers.”

Ms Cass-Gottlieb also discussed considerations in relation to some of the big players in the digital marketplace:

“Many competition agencies, including the ACCC, have observed that a number of large digital platforms have extended their market position through their acquisition strategies.”

She continued: “For example, the largest platform firms Google, Meta, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon have collectively made hundreds of acquisitions over the last five years. These acquisitions have prompted concerns as to entrenchment of market power of their core services, raising barriers to entry, and expansion of their ecosystems, potentially hampering the capacity for vigorous competition.”

Homing in later in her speech on mergers, Ms Cass-Gottlieb shared that:

“I had been aware of the cooperation between competition agencies in my previous role in private practice advising merger parties on global deals. I am now seeing this cooperation first-hand, and the benefits that come from these close working relationships are very clear.”

She highlighted that:

“An emerging trend in global mergers is merger parties appearing to take a strategic approach to seeking clearances across different jurisdictions. The absence of a mandatory notification requirement in Australia means that we are often approached comparatively late. It is clear that some merger parties are focusing their clearance efforts on a particular jurisdiction and then appear to be marking time until they secure clearance in that key jurisdiction. In some cases there may be legitimate reasons for this approach but in others there may not be.”

Ms Cass-Gottlieb asserted that, from her experience, doing things this way just “slows the entire process down”.

She added: “As recent evidence shows, agencies make independent decisions and so can reach different conclusions even if they have engaged constructively with each other during their processes.”

Ms Cass-Gottlieb also used her keynote to discuss some of the ACCC’s 2022-2023 priorities. She talked about issues relating to global supply chains, noting:

“The ACCC recently formed a working group with our fellow competition authorities in the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand to share intelligence and work together to detect any attempts by businesses to use the pandemic as a veil for illegal conduct, such as collusion, in our global supply chains.”

Financial services was the other priority area Ms Cass-Gottlieb spoke to. One focus that falls under this banner is LCR. Ms Cass-Gottlieb stated:

“One of the core issues we observe affecting competition in card payment markets is ‘least cost routing’ (LCR). This enables merchants to choose the provider of processing for their debit card transactions. In Australia the choice is between an international card scheme or the domestic debit card payment network, eftpos which is owned by certain Australian banks and retailers. The significance of this issue to competition in card payment markets cannot be overstated, given debit card transactions now make up around 75 percent of all card payments in Australia and eftpos processing services have historically been more keenly priced for merchants than the services provided by international card schemes.”

She added:

“In March 2021, we accepted a court enforceable undertaking from Visa to address our concerns that Visa may have limited competition in relation to debit card acceptance through its dealings with large merchants. We are continuing to investigate similar allegations of anti-competitive conduct designed to limit the take-up of ‘least cost routing’ by market participants.”

Digital wallet payments are also on the ACCC’s radar.

In her conclusion, Ms Cass-Gottlieb noted that:

“Each competition regulator will have their own individual approach to resolving issues in their local jurisdictions, but support between global partners only strengthens our ability to achieve a satisfactory result.”

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