International Competition Network
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Thirteen months shy of its tenth birthday, the International Competition Network has quickly risen to become the leading competition fora across the globe. With 107 members, the ICN now includes nearly all of the world’s competition agencies. In June, over 450 delegates from more than 80 jurisdictions convened at the ICN’s annual conference in Zurich, including more than 100 non-governmental advisors (NGAs). The conference was in many ways a celebration of ICN’s success. ‘The ICN is making impressive progress toward fulfilling a central aim that motivated its creation: to be a demand-driven institution that promotes acceptance of superior methods, enables agencies to understand more deeply their common interests and differences, and to realize, through collective action, results that elude individual initiative’, said William Kovacic, commissioner at the US Federal Trade Commission and the ICN’s vice chair for outreach.
In Zurich, members adopted new international benchmarks, ‘Recommended Practices’, on competitive effects, unilateral effects, and coordinated effects analysis in horizontal merger review. In the area of unilateral conduct, the ICN continues to build a body of knowledge on which enforcers and policy-makers around the world can draw to assist in implementing their competition laws in this complex area, producing reports on the analysis of tying and bundled discounting and on the analysis of single-product loyalty discounts and rebates in over 30 jurisdictions. Projects on anti-cartel enforcement included new work on searches and leniency for the ICN’s enforcement manual, and at the conference members exchanged experiences about issues that arise in the transition from administrative orders to criminal sanctions for hard-core cartel violations. Members’ experience with market studies was surveyed, laying the groundwork to prepare in 2009 to 2010 a manual for conducting market studies. Members also worked together to address institutional issues, including compliance, and in Zurich reported on an ICN workshop on agency effectiveness hosted by the European Commission earlier this year. These projects are only a handful of more than 30 projects that ICN members and NGAs completed in 2008 to 2009.1
Delegates at the conference also recognised, however, new challenges raised by the ICN’s very successes that will have to be addressed if the network is to remain effective through its second decade. For example, the project-oriented nature of its work means the focus of efforts is on specific initiatives, allowing the ICN to undertake and complete many projects. A project-specific approach, however, will be most effective over the next decade if guided by a clear, long term vision. Also, the ICN’s achievements across all areas of competition law and policy means that the competition community looks to the ICN to address, with existing resources, new topics as they arise, most recently the role of competition policy in an economic downturn. Finally, the spectacular growth in membership means that the network must work harder to be relevant for an increasingly diverse set of needs and to maintain leadership structures representative of its membership.
Members demonstrated a real commitment to addressing these challenges: John Fingleton, CEO of the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT), was elected to the top position in the ICN, chair of the Steering Group. As head of the Irish Competition Authority and now the OFT, Fingleton has channeled his endless energy into helping the organisations achieve positive outcomes for consumers. Fingleton aspires to accomplish this at a global level, as he explained in the closing session of the ICN’s annual conference in Zurich: ‘In formulating our longer-term vision and planning for the ICN’s second decade, we need to imagine a different and better world in which consumers and business are better protected from anti-competitive harm whether public or private, and where the individual and collective efforts we undertake to achieve that do not impose such burdens on business that we end up harming consumers in other ways.’2
The ICN has made substantial, concrete results that strengthen competition law enforcement and policy in the global marketplace. The year ahead promises continuity of these efforts in the area of cartels, mergers, unilateral conduct, and advocacy, including updated chapters on digital evidence gathering and case initiation in cartel enforcement, new best practices for merger analysis on market definition and failing firm analysis, and a report on how agencies address refusals to deal in unilateral conduct cases.3 A new working group, co-chaired by the Brazilian Council for Economic Defence (CADE) and the Turkish Competition Authority, will address institutional issues, preparing chapters on strategy and planning and effective project delivery as part of a handbook on agency effectiveness. The Egyptian Competition Authority will host an ICN cartel workshop this October.
The network also plans to improve internal and external communications, through more widespread use of teleseminars, on-line discussion fora, and possibly webinars. In addition, an ICN weblog will be available on the ICN’s website beginning in late September.
At the same time, the network will consider its own operations, including: articulating a long-term vision, prioritising portfolios and resources; exploring new opportunities that foster inclusiveness of its members and of NGAs; and promoting better use of existing work products.
Most of the ICN’s efforts are timed for completion and discussion at the annual conference, and many of the projects mentioned will be presented at the next annual conference in Istanbul, hosted by the Turkish Competition Authority, from 27 to 29 April 2010.
* The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Federal Trade Commission or any individual commissioner.
1 An executive summary of this year’s materials submitted for the annual conference is available at: www.icn-zurich.org/Downloads/Materials/ICN_Executive_Summary_of_ICN_Work_Product_June2009_Final_090522.pdf.
2 The full text of Fingleton’s speech is available at: www.internationalcompetitionnetwork.org/media/library/ICNclosingspeech.pdf. See also Fingleton’s accompanying paper, ‘Competition agencies and global markets: the challenges ahead’, available at: www.oft.gov.uk/shared_oft/speeches/2009/spe0909paper.pdf.
3 For more information, work plans are available on the ICN website at www.internationalcompetitionnetwork.org.