PaRR/Rajah & Tann forum

  • CCS’ priority to ensure level-playing field for Singapore companies overseas
  • Increased risk of international cartels in ASEAN’s single market
  • Greater need to strengthen cooperation, information-exchange

ASEAN member states moving towards economic integration by the end of this year are considering a new post-2015 competition action plan, the assistant chief executive at the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) said on Wednesday (28 October) in Singapore.

The proposed action plan is expected to contain initiatives “to support an overarching vision of a competitive, innovative, and dynamic ASEAN through effective and progressive competition policy and law,” Lee Cheow Han Lee told delegates at a competition forum entitled: “Singapore & SE Asia: Paving the road ahead for the next 10 years”.

Speaking at the event – co-hosted by PaRR and law firm Rajah & Tann – Lee outlined the following key focus areas of the action plan:

  • It will aim to ensure that national competition laws in the various member states are based on international best practices;
  • Institutional capacities of member states should be strengthened to enforce competition law;
  • There should be increased awareness of competition policy and law in the region;
  • And there should be a move towards enhanced regional cooperation arrangements as member states work towards greater harmonization of competition law in the region.

Lee said that the proposed action plan would aim to launch various projects, including self-assessment toolkits, peer reviews, staff exchanges, joint studies, and regional cooperation mechanisms.

The legal fraternity and businesses operating across the 10 ASEAN member states have been championing the need for a trans-ASEAN competition super-regulator, similar to the European Commission, for quite some time, as PaRR previously reported.

Though there is no immediate plan to set up such a trans-ASEAN competition regulator, the CCS is expected to take the lead and play a critical role in developing interest in this idea, according to one antitrust lawyer at the event.

This could explain why Singapore’s competition authority decided to change in its vision and mission statement when it celebrated its 10th anniversary, the lawyer told PaRR.

On 23 July, when the CCS celebrated its 10th anniversary, it unveiled its new mission statement for the coming decade: Making markets work well to create opportunities and choices for businesses and consumers in Singapore.

In his keynote address, Lee said that the Singapore regulator promote a "competition aware" region that will not only support fair competition but also help tackle cross-border competition issues.

Lee added that increased cross-border business activity makes it vital for the CCS to ensure that Singapore companies operating overseas are able to compete on a level playing field.

Businesses operating in ASEAN will have access to one of the largest consumer markets in the world. Lee cautioned however that as business activity increasingly takes on a cross-border dimension in the single market across the region, a heightened risk of international cartels would emerge.

Compared with domestic cartels, international cartels bring about additional challenges for competition authorities given the need to conduct investigations across national borders and obtain evidence outside its jurisdiction, Lee said. It is therefore critical that competition authorities in the region move quickly towards strengthening co-operation and facilitating information exchange among their counterparts to allow effective enforcement of cross-border competition infringements.

Meanwhile, the CCS is chairing the competition policy chapter in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) involving all the 10 ASEAN member states as well as six of ASEAN's dialogue partners – Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. This competition chapter is designed to ensure that businesses operating overseas are protected from competition law infringements and can compete on a level playing field, Lee said.

The parties negotiating the ASEAN agreement represent a collective market of more than 3bn people and a combined GDP of about USD 17trn.