International Competition Network

ICN turns ten

In the first decade of its existence, the ICN established itself as one of the key fora for the discussion and advancement of international competition policy. It shows no signs of resting on its laurels: the ICN, under the leadership of steering group chair John Fingleton, is engaged in a comprehensive self-study and strategy exercise to ensure continued success through its second decade.

As part of this ‘Second Decade’ project, the ICN Steering Group has held individual and group consultations with nearly all of ICN’s 120 members from 106 jurisdictions, as well as with many non-governmental advisors (NGAs).1 The consultations solicited feedback on substantive and operational strengths and weaknesses of the ICN, and on future work and long-term goals.2 The steering group also surveyed academic literature on networks and evaluated how similar networks operate. As a result of these consultations, the ICN has strengthened its mission statement to reflect greater emphasis on the adoption and promotion of international best practice, and focus on enhanced competition advocacy.3

The focus on convergence continues ICN’s existing practice, as much of the ICN’s work is devoted to the development of good practices. The ICN does this by creating work products such as case manuals and handbooks, as well as more directly through the creation of ‘soft law’ in the form of recommended practices. The ICN has adopted recommended practices in the area of merger procedure, substantive merger analysis, the assessment of dominance and substantial market power, and the treatment of state-created monopolies under unilateral conduct laws. The ICN’s mission statement for the next decade suggests a greater emphasis on implementation of these recommended practices. Already more than two thirds of ICN member agencies and even governments have amended their laws and policies to conform to ICN recommendations, particularly those on merger notification and review procedures. However, considerable divergence with ICN recommended practices remains. An example of how the ICN is already placing greater emphasis on implementation is its recent willingness to directly advocate the adoption of reforms that implement its recommendations when asked to do so by the member agency. The ICN has formally supported proposed amendments to the Brazilian merger system that reflect the ICN’s recommended practices and, most recently, proposed amendments to the merger regime in Jersey. In the case of Jersey, the ICN offered support for the proposed elimination of the share of supply merger threshold and also indicated what aspects of the proposed amendments did not reflect the Recommended Practices.

In the area of competition advocacy, the strengthened mission statement again reflects recent ICN practice. For example, during the recent economic crisis, the ICN Steering Group developed talking points on the role of competition policy in an economic downturn and made the talking points available to members to use in their domestic advocacy. ICN members also suggested in the Second Decade consultations that the Network should be more willing to expand its reach by, for example, developing competition best practices for regulators and other parts of the government to use in designing and implementing their regulations. In the next decade, the ICN may be expected to play a more visible role in the global competition policy debate, whether by participating in activities such as OECD or UNCTAD peer reviews, or issuing policy resolutions on hot topics in competition policy.

In May, also as part of the Second Decade project, the ICN articulated four high level goals for 2011 to 2021. The ICN will seek to:

  • encourage the dissemination of competition experience and best practices;
  • formulate proposals for procedural and substantive convergence through a results-oriented agenda and structure;
  • support competition advocacy; and
  • facilitate effective international cooperation.

One significant change in the short run is likely to be more work on international cooperation. While international cooperation was one of ICN’s founding principles and relationships fostered through ICN work have contributed greatly to enhanced cooperation around the globe, the ICN only recently began to address international cooperation as a stand-alone project. In 2011, the US agencies hosted an ICN round table on international cooperation and the Steering Group is preparing a discussion paper on further work. It is less clear how the other three high-level goals will change the nature of the ICN’s work.

To stay relevant to an increasing number and diversity of members over the next 10 years,4 the ICN Steering Group is focused on engaging a broader representation of members in leadership positions. Fingleton led the drive to include new faces in key positions - including the recent addition of the Barbados Fair Trade Commission to the ICN’s Steering Group - and a restructuring of working groups to create new lead positions and facilitate turnover of existing positions.

The ICN will also prepare for the next decade through a greater commitment to technology. In 2010, as part of the drive to offer more innovative and interactive resources and to promote existing ICN work product, the ICN launched an ambitious new project - perhaps its next flagship project - to create a free-of-charge virtual university. In this ‘Curriculum Project’, the ICN develops training modules consisting of video lectures and accompanying materials from a diverse group of international academics and practitioners, creating an online interactive educational centre. Relying on existing ICN work product and member experience, the training incorporates theory and implementation; for example, the market definition module covers principles of market definition as well as the types of information needed and techniques to obtain it. During its first year, the Curriculum Project team prepared modules on the origins, aims and major characteristics of competition policy, market definition and market power.5 In the coming year, the team hopes to produce six more modules, including on an introduction to anti-cartel enforcement, competitive effects and other topics.Other recent notable efforts that reflect a greater emphasis on technology, inclusiveness and low or no cost include:

  • increased use of webinars;
  • development of online resources such as a market studies information store and a cartel awareness toolkit;
  • online access to workshop materials and videos; and
  • an ICN bulletin board and blog, www.icnblog.org.

These efforts to make ICN activities and materials more accessible, while overdue, are most welcome.

At the working group level, each of ICN’s five substantive working groups (advocacy, agency effectiveness, cartel, merger and unilateral conduct) has revised long-term strategic plans to incorporate feedback received in the Second Decade consultations.6

The ICN’s willingness to devote significant resources to self-evaluation and strategic planning and, more importantly, the Network’s demonstrated commitment to applying the findings, bode well for the ICN as it enters its second decade.

Upcoming events

Upcoming ICN events include the 2011 ICN Cartel Workshop, which will be held in Bruges, Belgium, from 11 to 13 October 2011. Also, the annual conference returns to the Americas, with the Brazilian competition agencies hosting the 2012 annual conference in Rio de Janeiro, from 17 to 20 April.7

Notes

* Maria Coppola is Counsel for International Antitrust at the US Federal Trade Commission. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

1
NGAs are non-governmental experts, including private practitioners, economists, academics, representatives of international organisations, and industry and consumer groups, who participate in the ICN alongside members.

2
A report on the results of the Second Decade project was issued for the ICN’s 10th annual conference held in May 2011, available at:www.internationalcompetitionnetwork.org/uploads/library/doc755.pdf.

3
The new mission statement is ‘to advocate the adoption of superior standards and procedures in competition enforcement and policy around the world, formulate proposals for procedural and substantive convergence, and seek to facilitate effective international cooperation to the benefit of member agencies, consumers and economies worldwide’.

4
ICN membership increased from an initial 15 members in 2001, to 80 by 2003, to 120 members in 2011. Two disappointments in membership are the limited number of members from Africa and that the Chinese agencies have not applied for membership. However, recent efforts to engage competition agencies from this region are proving fruitful. Half of the members that joined in the past year are from sub-Saharan Africa.

5
The modules are available online at:www.internationalcompetitionnetwork.org/working-groups/vice-chair/outreach/icncurriculum.aspx.

6
The long term and strategic plans are available on the ICN’s website.

7
See www.icn-rio.org/.

About the author

Maria Coppola is counsel for international antitrust at the US Federal Trade Commission. At the FTC, she is responsible for the agency’s participation in the International Competition Network and bilateral cooperation with competition agencies in Latin America. Ms Coppola previously served as staff attorney in the FTC’s New York office. She obtained her law degree from Columbia Law School.

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