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Thursday, December 15, 2016, 00:35

Competition Commission set to show its teeth

By Willa Wu

HONG KONG - The SAR's Competition Commission is ready to bring its first few cases to local court in early 2017, the commission head revealed on Wednesday.

It would mark the first round of concrete legal actions taken in the city to boost market competition after the Competition Ordinance, or Hong Kong's anti-trust law, took effect a year ago.

The commission declined to disclose the detail of the cases citing legal reasons.

Reviewing the commission's work in the past year, Chairperson Anna Wu Hung-yuk said some cases received in 2015-16 were with "substantial" evidence that could be proceeded with in the Competition Tribunal.

Wu added that the commission plans to deal with two to three lawsuits on a yearly basis starting in 2017. She emphasized that the handling of two to three lawsuits was an "intensive" job as each case usually involves four to five parties.

The Competition Commission is an independent statutory body tasked to oversee competition-oriented conduct in the market. Wednesday marks the first anniversary of the Competition Ordinance’s implementation.

The commission has received some 1,900 complaints and inquiries. Among them, 1,100 concerned violation of the First Conduct Rule under the ordinance, which prohibits anti-competition conducts such as bid-rigging, resale price maintenance and exchange of information.

Moreover, in a bolder step the commission said it will work to open competition for the city’s auto-fuel market that has long been operating under an oligopoly. It will release a study on the issue early next year, according to the commission.

The study will not only focus on the prices, but also look at the market structure and identify opportunities to make the market more competitive, according to the commission.

Meanwhile, Rasul Butt, the commission’s senior executive director, noted that around 130 of the total 1,900 complaints and inquiries needed further assessment. They mainly came from industries including property and property management, professional and technical services, and transport, logistics and storage.

There was a clear concentration on bid-rigging among all complaints and inquiries. Thus, the commission is prioritizing the handling of bid-rigging on its work agenda, Butt said.

Also at the briefing, the commission's Chief Executive Officer Rose Webb told China Daily that she expects to expand the current 25-strong team to better handle the complaints and inquires.

She also clarified the situation when similar prices in several different stores raise suspicions of price-fixing – an anti-competition conduct prohibited by the ordinance.

Webb explained that the commission will consider multiple factors, including whether the stores adjusted the prices at the same time and whether the price adjustments were in a pact with other conditions. Similar prices are not the sole criteria, she said.
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