Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Antitrust Chief Addresses New Merger Guidelines, Global Cooperation

This posting was written by Darius Sturmer, Editor of CCH Trade Regulation Reporter.

At Georgetown’s Global Antitrust Enforcement Symposium in Washington, D.C. on September 21, Assistant Attorney General Christine A. Varney, chief of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, delivered remarks concerning international cooperation in antitrust investigation and enforcement.

Varney began by discussing the issuance of revised Horizontal Merger Guidelines by the Antitrust Division and the FTC in August 2010. While the revised Guidelines “provide transparency into the agencies’ current enforcement analysis,” they “contain no surprises,” setting forth concepts and considerations that had long been central to the agencies’ merger review and incorporating much of the Commentary the agencies issued in 2006 for the then-extant Guidelines.

The revised guidelines merely reflected a refinement in approach to merger review to incorporate advances in economic learning and changes in business realities, according to Varney.

The assistant attorney general then focused on future global enforcement, providing the historical context of international cooperation, explaining the challenges of achieving convergence with other competition agencies around the world, describing the state of cooperation at present, and offering initial thoughts on the direction that cooperation efforts should take in the coming decade and beyond.

The efforts at convergence in the past decade have been “a very positive step,” she said, because convergence reinforces international case cooperation and helps businesses operate more efficiently. However, Varney acknowledged, convergence on everything was “unlikely,” owing to the wide range of competitive landscapes found in different jurisdictions.

“The Antitrust Division has been working hard to bring greater cooperation to international cooperation enforcement by facilitating discussion of important issues,building bilateral and multilateral relationships, and learning how best to coordinate investigations and remedies in a globalized age,” according to Varney.

Within these efforts has been a “special emphasis on encouraging procedural fairness and transparency, as evidenced by the agency’s involvement in two OECD Working Party roundtables focused on those topics.

Varney cited the combination of Cisco and Tandberg as an example of the Antitrust Division taking into account remedies secured by the European Commission (EC) in closing its own investigation. She noted that the Justice Department has also enhanced its relationships with numerous other competition enforcers, including China, Russia, and the EC.

Looking toward the next decade, Varney stated that the concept of convergence should focus on substantive legal and economic analysis, rather than uniformity of processes and procedures, because of the differing legal proceedings and traditions employed by the competition regimes around the world.

She observed that convergence has already largely occurred in some areas of competition thinking—such as price fixing, market allocations,and anticompetitive horizontal mergers—but not nearly as much in the substantive analysis of unilateral conduct.

Going forward,“we must above all focus our efforts on deep and meaningful dialogue and continued cooperation on the basic principles that the competition community has already accepted,” she concluded.

The complete text of Varney’s remarks,entitled “International Cooperation: Preparing for the Future,” appear here. The remarks will be reported at CCH Trade Regulation Reporter ¶ 50,260.

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