20 de Enero de 2018
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Colección: Trends for a common future
Autor: Sidney Weintraub
Título: Technical Cooperation Needs for Hemispheric trade Negotiations

8. Competition Policy

The statement has been made in this report that a number of the negotiating groups are dealing with issues new to international trade negotiations. This is the case for services, intellectual property rights, investment, and to a large extent government procurement. No group, however, is dealing with a newer topic as it relates to trade negotiations than the Negotiating Group on Competition Policy (NGCP). Indeed, there is no accepted agreement on how to best get at the linkage between trade policy and competition policy.

The problem that faces the NGCP goes beyond this in that most hemispheric countries, particularly the smaller ones, have no effective anti-monopoly and unfair business practice policies. Many that do (Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela) introduced them relatively recently and are still experimenting with how to make them work well. There is no conceptual clarity either in the more economically advanced countries as to how the changing structure of private enterprise meshes with traditional anti-trust policies, as witness the lawsuit against Microsoft now taking place in the United States for its allegedly monopolistic behavior. Defining monopoly in a fast-evolving, ever-changing industry like computer software may not be the same as it was in oil and steel earlier in the century.

In the FTAA negotiations, it is not clear how the work of this negotiating group relates to concerns of countries with small economies and studies have been requested on this theme. There are differences in jurisprudence between countries under civil law systems and those operating under common law and these have to be understood and taken into account. In other words, this negotiating group has an unenviable task.

Having said this, there are legitimate concerns that monopolistic practices distort international trade. The megamergers taking place across national boundaries in such fields as telecommunications, banking, insurance, power generation, and auto production must raise fears about restraint of trade. Even if the way competition policy and trade should be linked is unclear, a hemispheric start is appropriate.

As with other working groups, the first requirement here is an updated inventory of national laws and practices, and this is being compiled by the OAS. The state of play in the WTO must be clarified to the negotiating group participants, and so too must any material relating to this subject in hemispheric agreements, particularly NAFTA.

Much TC can take the form of sending relevant officials to international meetings on competition issues, something that requires information and financing. The U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, which have responsibility for anti-trust (anti-monopoly) matters in the United States, accept foreign officials for brief, on-the-spot, observation and participation in their activities. This is probably more useful for countries with large economies than with small ones. The Centro de Formación para la Integración Regional (CEFIR) in Montevideo offers short courses on the links between competition and other policies, e.g., those dealing with regulation, plus practical training. INTAL, under the joint IDB-Central American Bank for Economic Integration technical assistance program, has a module in its training in Central America on defense of competition which provides a conceptual framework and analysis of some specific cases.

This is the learning stage for this negotiating group and, consequently, gathering of the necessary information and TC for officials involved in the negotiations are probably the most urgent tasks.