On 26 March 2019, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that they had signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen cooperation for the purposes of enforcing consumer protection laws on both sides of the Atlantic.
The agreement sets out the arrangements for cooperation, assistance and exchange of information between the two agencies, who will:
- share information relevant to investigations or enforcement proceedings regarding consumer protection laws;
- provide investigative assistance to each other, including by locating relevant people or assets;
- establish regular electronic exchanges of consumer complaint information with each other; other US and UK civil or criminal enforcement authorities; and other entities which have consumer protection-related functions (such as Citizens Advice); and
- collaborate on sharing best practices and subject-matter expertise, such as through staff exchanges, webinars and the development of consumer and business education materials.
The CMA has always collaborated with the FTC, and we have seen examples of them taking similar approaches in responding to the challenges of an increasingly digitalised world. For example, they have both issued guidance requiring social media ‘influencers’ to disclose their relationships with advertisers when sharing content – albeit the FTCs guidelines were released in September 2017, while the CMA’s guidance was published in January 2019. However, the MoU is likely to result in their respective enforcement priorities and strategies becoming even more closely aligned in future.
It is also in line with what we were told to look out for in the CMA’s 2018/19 Annual Plan, about the CMA’s response to the challenges and opportunities for the enforcement of consumer protection law presented by Brexit. The CMA said then that it would “continue to cooperate in competition and consumer law enforcement with competition and consumer authorities worldwide, inside and outside the EU”.
The MoU comes hot on the heels of the recent letter from Lord Tyrie, the Chair of the CMA, to Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which recommended that the CMA be granted stronger powers to enforce consumer laws in the UK (see our earlier blog post). It remains to be seen whether Lord Tyrie will get his way, but the CMA’s agreement with the FTC is a clear signal of intent that, in the meantime, it plans to maximise the powers it already has at its disposal.