Suriname: CARICOM Competition Commission
January 2013 marked the fifth anniversary of the CARICOM Competition Commission (CCC), headquartered in Paramaribo, Suriname. Established under Chapter VIII of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC), the CCC has a mandate to apply the rules of competition, in respect of anti-competitive cross-border business conduct; promote and protect competition in the Community and coordinate the implementation of the Community Competition Policy; and provide assistance to member states for the enhancement of consumer education and consumer welfare.
During its first five years, the CCC focused primarily on building its own institutional, human resource, advocacy and legislative capacity. This created a strong platform from which the CCC is better prepared to execute its mandate at the national, regional and extra-regional dimensions of competition law and policy, and consumer promotion and protection.
Going forward, the CCC will pay specific attention to member states of CARICOM which have not established the legislative and institutional frameworks for competition law and policy and consumer protection. The CCC will also continue to focus on advocacy, which is a major component of its work programme.
In 2013, the CCC lent its experiences and technical capacity to Belize in crafting a strategy for establishment of a national competition authority (NCA). This will be followed up with country missions with a view to supporting the implementation of a national competition strategy for Belize.
The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) competition strategy envisages an operational sub-regional competition authority by 2014. In this regard, the CCC provided technical assistance and knowledge sharing to a meeting convened by the OECS Secretariat to national focal points, in the areas of competition and consumer protection in May 2013.
In the next five years, the CCC will continue to build and support the national competition law and policy initiatives in Belize, the OECS and Suriname, with a view to ensuring that these member states meet their national obligations under the RTC.
Additionally, continued harmonisation of national competition legislation within the broad objectives set out in the Chapter VIII of the RTC, is a major undertaking for the CCC. This will assist the CCC in enforcing its mandate in individual member states when required, more effectively.
Impediments to the enforcement of Community competition law that need to be monitored and addressed are the lack of merger control provisions (MCP) regionally, and sectoral exemptions in some national competition laws.
With regard to MCP, CARICOM in 2011 agreed to incorporate MCP into Chapter VIII of the RTC. However, there is a lack of consensus among the member states with regard to the methodology for assessing regional mergers. The incorporation of MCP would enable the CCC to more effectively assess mergers that may have possible cross-border effects, and also ensure that Chapter VIII of the RTC reflects current international best practice.
National sectoral exemptions from competition law are of concern especially in regard to anti-competitive business conduct that could be exempted nationally but have a cross-border effect in the regional market. The CCC is likely to advocate for the removal of exemptions where they exist.
Promotion and protection of consumers
With respect to consumer protection, the CCC will continue to build on the work done by the Consumer Protection Forum established in 2012. The Consumer Protection Forum provides a sustainable model for the promotion of consumer welfare and the protection of consumer interests in CARICOM.
Additionally, the CCC will forge stronger relationships with national consumer authorities, promote cooperation between individual national consumer organisations, develop a regional data collection and analysis framework, and in time a regional framework for cross-border complaint resolution.
The CCC has developed two research proposals based on best practice, to collect baseline data on awareness of consumer protection law and policy; and the level of consumer detriment in member states. These will be executed when funding is sourced.
As mentioned earlier, advocacy will continue to be a major component of the CCC’s work programme. In that regard, the CCC is in the process of developing programmes based on its own experiences, as well as the experiences of member states with existing NCAs.
These programmes will be geared towards developing competition culture among member states that are in the process of establishing their own NCAs; similar programmes for consumer protection, in order to ensure that the CCC fulfils its mandate in supporting member states in achieving their Treaty obligations through the work of their national consumer authorities, and non-governmental organisations; other programmes that cater specifically to stakeholder groups such as the judiciary, media, business, and government agencies, with a view to building national and regional competition and consumer protection awareness and culture.
In addition, the CCC is expanding the informal cooperation structure among existing NCAs into a Regional Competition Forum in anticipation of welcoming new NCAs next year.
The CCC will continue to make information more easily accessible to stakeholders through all available media outlets. The CCC has therefore contracted for the development of a website that will go live in the third quarter of 2013 as part of this process.
Extra-regional and international cooperation initiatives
The CCC expects to engage more regularly with our counterparts identified under the CARIFORUM/EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and the CARICOM-DR Free Trade Agreement. Consequently, the CCC will continue to lend its voice and expertise to the drafting of modalities for cooperation and engagement under the competition component in the consultations for a CARICOM-Canada Trade Agreement.
Additionally, interventions with the competition authority in the Dominican Republic are expected, given the competition provisions of the EPA and their coming into force in 2013.
The CCC as a young competition agency has faced challenges but has achieved much in the first five years of its operation, and is well placed to build on these achievements for the betterment of the region’s social and economic development.