The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recently signed a new memorandum of cooperation to strengthen their ability to combat cartels and other anti-competitive conduct.
The United States first entered into a bilateral cooperation agreement on antitrust enforcement with Australia in 1982 and further agreed to a mutual enforcement assistance programme in 1999. The new memorandum is intended to further enhance the United States' and Australia's antitrust enforcement relationship by enabling the FBI and the ACCC to share expertise and exchange staff to enhance their work in detecting, investigating and prosecuting criminal anti-competitive conduct.
The ACCC chair has stated that its relationship "with the FBI has deepened considerably in the past few years, including a visit by FBI representatives to Australia to discuss investigative techniques and information exchange". The section chief of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division has said that the agency is "proud of its relationship with the ACCC" and that the memorandum "codifies that relationship and provides opportunity for increased information- and resource-sharing as we work toward a common goal in preventing anti-competitive behavior".
The memorandum will be particularly relevant to both agencies' cross-border cartel investigations. Cartels and other anti-competitive conduct are a significant focus for both the ACCC and the United States' antitrust enforcement agencies. Earlier in 2019, the ACCC's chair stated that the ACCC "aim[s] to have two to three criminal investigations come to conclusion and prosecutions commence each year".(1) In a statement in April 2019, the US Department of Justice's assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division said that "prosecuting cartels remains [the division's] highest priority".(2)
The United States or its agencies have bilateral cooperation agreements with Brazil, Canada, Chile, Columbia, the European Union, Germany, Israel, Japan, Mexico and Peru (in addition to Australia). The United States has also entered into memoranda of understanding with enforcement agencies in China, India, Russia and South Korea.
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