Monday, 16 March 2020

Proposed Act on Curbing Anticompetitive Conduct in the United States


On March 10, 2020, former Presidential Candidate and Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced legislation designed to address abuses of market power by basically making it easier to prove violations of the antitrust laws.  The Press Release states, in part: 


The Anticompetitive Exclusionary Conduct Prevention Act would deter anticompetitive abuses that harm consumers and innovation

WASHINGTON U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, introduced new legislation today to deter anticompetitive abuses that distort the competitive process and harm consumers, innovation, and new business formation. The Anticompetitive Exclusionary Conduct Prevention Act prohibits anticompetitive exclusionary conduct that risks harm to the competitive process. It also makes reforms to improve antitrust enforcement across the board. The bill was cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

“We have a major monopoly problem in this country, which harms consumers and threatens free and fair competition across our economy. Companies need to be put on notice that exclusionary behavior that threatens competition cannot continue,” Klobuchar said. “Our legislation will deter anticompetitive abuses, helping to protect the competitive markets that are critical to ensuring fair prices for products and services, spurring innovation, and preserving opportunity for American entrepreneurs.”

Today’s economy – including key sectors like online commerce, pharmaceuticals, and agriculture – is characterized by growing market concentration and market power. Harmful exclusionary practices by powerful companies threaten free and fair competition, as decades of federal court decisions have chilled enforcement under existing laws. As a result, U.S. enforcement against the anticompetitive conduct of powerful firms has lagged behind efforts in other countries, creating an increased danger of our markets becoming less competitive and of our economy becoming less prosperous.     

Overview Anticompetitive Exclusionary Conduct Prevention Act of 2019:

KEY PROVISIONS

  1. Prohibit Anticompetitive Exclusionary Conduct: Amends the Clayton Antitrust Act to prohibit “exclusionary conduct” that presents an “appreciable risk of harming competition.”

1.       Shifts the Burden of Proof so that powerful companies that have a market share of greater than 50% or that otherwise have substantial market power would have to prove that their exclusionary conduct in the markets they dominate does not present an “appreciable risk of harming competition.”

2.       Allows DOJ and FTC to seek substantial civil penalties for violations of up to 15% of total U.S. revenues or 30% of the affected U.S. revenues in addition to other remedies available under the Clayton Act.

  1. Eliminate Unnecessary “Market Definition” Requirements: Courts often require claimants to prove a relevant market to establish liability under the antitrust laws, even in the face of clear evidence of competitive harm. The bill clarifies that the antitrust laws do not require definition of a relevant market, unless the statutory language explicitly requires it to resolve the case. 
  2. Prevent Courts from Improperly Implying Antitrust Immunities: Courts have implied immunity from the antitrust laws for certain conduct based on the existence of federal regulation, in certain circumstances ignoring statutory savings clauses passed by Congress. This bill limits the ability of courts to imply antitrust immunity for regulated conduct. 

The legislation has the support of leading national consumer welfare and antitrust policy organizations American Antitrust Institute, Consumer Reports, and Public Knowledge.

“AAI supports Senator Klobuchar’s bill to strengthen U.S. law to limit harmful conduct by dominant firms -an area of antitrust that has been largely unenforced for decades,” said Diana L. Moss, President, American Antitrust Institute. “The bill will set forth clear, strong, and needed criteria for policing conduct that is designed to drive rivals from markets. It should garner broad bi-partisan support from members of Congress who seek to protect our markets, competition, consumers, and workers.”

"Senator Klobuchar's bill addresses a key shortcoming in our law. Current antitrust law doesn't apply to a company until it already has a monopoly, or is on the verge of one -even when it has enough market power to sabotage the competitive process,” said George Slover, Senior Policy Counsel, Consumer Reports. “This targeted, measured bill would move the line where it needs to be to address the kinds of anticompetitive abuse we are seeing too much of in today's marketplace. This is particularly important as commerce and communications increasingly take place online, with dominant platforms presenting new challenges to making sure we have a competitive marketplace that works for consumers and for all who seek to reach them." 

“For far too long, antitrust enforcers have been fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. This legislation will revitalize antitrust enforcement in exclusionary conduct cases by sharpening the tools of our antitrust agencies,” said Charlotte Slaiman, Competition Policy Director at Public Knowledge. “We commend this effort to address the problem of exclusionary conduct to ensure these competitive harms do not escape scrutiny.”

The full press release is available, here.  The full proposed legislation is available, here

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