Barbados: Fair Trading Commission
The Fair Trading Commission is responsible for utility regulation, fair competition and consumer protection. Its mandate is to:
- promote, maintain and encourage competition;
- prohibit the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition and the abuse of dominant positions in trade in Barbados and within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market and Economy; and
- ensure that all enterprises, irrespective of size, have the opportunity to participate equitably in the marketplace.
In 2013, the Commission conducted a number of investigations into alleged anti-competitive practices. These investigations dealt with conduct such as margin squeeze, excessive pricing and refusal to deal. They arose in a wide range of sectors including telecommunications, distribution and oil and gas. The Commission also investigated three mergers in the oil and gas and telecommunications sectors. Several investigations were resolved during the year and efforts are continuing to bring the outstanding investigations to a close.
The Commission is required to keep commercial activities under review to ensure that those practices which may adversely affect the interest of consumers are prevented or eliminated. In this regard, the Commission continued to actively monitor domestic commercial activity and undertook a review of the Distributive Sector to identify activity that could adversely affect the interest of consumers. The study examined the key features of the grocery retail market in Barbados and highlighted activities that are likely to create competitive concerns and reduce consumer welfare. The Commission is currently taking action on these issues.
The Commission is responsibile for providing general information regarding the importance of competition and the rights and obligations under the Act to persons engaged in business, and consumers. The objective is to reduce the level of anti-competitive conduct by making persons aware of the negative consequences of such practices and the benefits of competition. During the year, the Commission undertook an enhanced programme of visits to businesses to make specific presentations to management on competition law and policy. The Commission was also highly visible in the print media, authoring several articles weekly in the daily newspapers.
The Commission hosted its annual two-day training programme on Competition Law and Policy. Participants included business leaders, legal personnel and administrators. The interactive sessions dealt with areas such as anti-competitive agreements, mergers, abuse of dominance and regional cross border anti-competitive conduct.
In addition, the Commission hosted its 10th annual lecture, which is designed to bring topics and issues of interest to the public domain for discussion. The annual lecture draws a large number of participants from a wide cross-section of the public, and the presenter this year was the governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, DeLisle Worrell, who spoke on the topic ‘What is a Fair Trade?’ Previous speakers included Michal Gal, Eleanor Fox, William Kovacic and Richard Whish. The annual training programme and annual lecture are two of the Commission’s core advocacy activities.
Section 5 of the Fair Competition Act establishes a protocol on cooperation between the Commission and the CARICOM Competition Commission (CCC) in the first instance, and between the national authorities of the member states. This protocol seeks to promote and maintain fair competition across the region. The Commission has been working with the CCC to fulfil general and specific informational requests.
At the level of collaboration with CARICOM, staff continued to liaise with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade in the continuing negotiations on the text of the Canada–CARICOM Free Trade Agreement and other trade-related matters.
To ensure that the Commission remains aware of new developments, emerging ideas and best practices relating to competition issues, the Commission has sought to remain firmly connected to the work being undertaken by the various international organisations and networks that promote competition law and policy. The Commission continued to participate as a member of the Steering Group of the International Competition Network (ICN), to which it was appointed in May 2011, and participated in several ICN Steering Group meetings that were conducted by teleconference.
The Commission continued to maintain a relationship with the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the US Department of Justice (DoJ) under an International Competition Network (ICN) partnership arrangement. Teleconferences were convened during the year to discuss specific topics in the areas of competition law enforcement and also complex competition issues relating to some investigations.
The Commission has been able to improve its investigative efficiency in terms of the quality of the market data it collects and the time to complete its investigations and issue its directions. This has been accomplished by enhancing its relationships with relevant data collection agencies through which it has been able to source important data, and by more effectively managing evidence collection and report preparation.
The Commission believes that effective enforcement of competition law requires collaboration with our local and overseas strategic partners and active participation in networks such as the ICN. The Commission also believes that efforts focused on the further development of a pervasive competition culture are critical to its success in reducing the number of breaches of the Fair Competition Act.
In 2014–2015, the Commission plans to seek out opportunities and develop new initiatives to further develop a culture of competition. The Commission plans to identify and embrace new and innovative ways to reach out to and educate its stakeholders.
Existing businesses and potential investors need to feel confident that they can operate in a predictable regulatory framework. Fine-tuning of the Commission’s administrative procedures, such as the development of statutory instruments to guide merger review and franchise arrangements, will be undertaken in the period 2014–2015.
The Commission is looking forward to pursuing credible leads that raise competition issues and to rigorously investigating allegations of anti-competitive behaviour. Enforcement action will continue to be a priority in the administration of the Fair Competition Act.