Competition authorities around the world are handling a surge in more complex, global mergers, demonstrating the need for continued strong collaboration between agencies across different jurisdictions, ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb has told an international audience.

Delivering the keynote address at the International Chamber of Commerce / International Bar Association (ICC/IBA) Pre-International Competition Network (ICN) Forum in Berlin today, Ms Cass-Gottlieb noted that many of these global transactions appeared increasingly complex in their transaction structures, the competition issues involved and in some of the remedies being offered.

She also noted a trend in which some merger parties appear to take a strategic approach to seeking clearance across different jurisdictions.

“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,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.

“My observation is that this tactic simply slows the entire process down. 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 noted that by cooperating, competition agencies worldwide benefited from the sharing of information to assess the same or similar conduct, and more efficient investigations. This also helped to reduced the regulatory burden on businesses operating internationally.

“The ACCC sees collaboration with our international counterparts as a key component of our effectiveness as a regulator,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.

Regulators across the world had been highly conscious of the impact COVID-19 on consumers, business and markets and, where appropriate, factored these circumstances into their consideration of competition matters in the short term to assist businesses to remain viable in the long term, Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.

“In Australia we have been able to strictly limit and control the duration and impact of short term collaboration in response to the pandemic through use of our authorisation powers. We firmly believe that COVID-19 should not result in lowering standards against which mergers are ultimately assessed or competition law enforcement is taken.”

“Our merger assessments remain rightly focused on the long-term consequences of a merger and will not allow short-term market features, including those produced by the pandemic to outweigh these considerations,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.

“A competitive economy is critical to our collective future, so as much as possible we need to ensure any changes to the competitive landscape are temporary and limited to what is necessary.”

“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 result that is satisfactory to all,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.

The ICC/IBA Pre-ICN Forum is organised in conjunction with the ICN Annual Conference being held in Berlin from 4-6 May 2022. The ICN is a consensus-based organisation of national and multinational competition law enforcement authorities. It creates opportunities for authorities to work collaboratively to consider and address competition enforcement and policy issues.

Australia was a founding member of the ICN in 2001 together with 13 other jurisdictions. It now has more than 120 member agencies.

The full speech is available at Global collaboration among competition regulators crucial.